Participatory Design and Autism
: Supporting the participation, contribution and collaboration of children with ASD during the technology design process

  • Laura Benton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Child-computer interaction researchers are increasingly recognising the benefits of directly involving children in the design of new technology. This has resulted in the development of several design methods for involving children in the technology design process, using approaches such as Participatory Design (PD). More recently there has been a greater focus on involving children with diverse needs, as technology can often be particularly beneficial within the education of these children. One such group is children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and in recent years there has been a sharp rise in the amount of technology being developed specifically for this population. However, the needs and preferences of this user group can differ from the general child population due to the specific characteristics of ASD, with these differences making it more challenging for adult designers to develop appropriate technologies. This thesis therefore seeks to establish the potential of using PD to involve children with ASD within the technology design process through the development of a new PD method, which aims to support the typical difficulties of children with ASD at the same time as utilising their characteristic strengths.A qualitative approach has been followed in order to understand firstly the ability of children with ASD to undertake typical design tasks; secondly the degree children with ASD are able to participate in the design process; and thirdly the ability of children with ASD to collaborate within a design team. The results reveal that children with ASD can undertake typical design tasks, but some children may require additional support to generate and communicate their design ideas. It is shown that a flexible approach should be taken with regard to the involvement of children with ASD within the technology design process, and the importance of the adaptability of the adult’s role in supporting the children’s participation and collaboration is additionally highlighted. This research has led to the development of a new PD method, IDEAS, which is tailored to the specific needs of children with ASD through the incorporation of flexible structured and supportive features.
Date of Award18 Feb 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorHilary Johnson (Supervisor)


  • Participatory design
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • children

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