Social Sensory Architectures is an on-going research project led by Sean Ahlquist at the University of Michigan to design technology-embedded multi-sensory environments for children with autism spectrum disorder. The research involves the development of therapies which utilize the reinforcing capabilities of a multi-sensory experience for skill-building tasks related to fine/gross motor control and social interaction. Through the use of advanced textile design, sensing technology and bespoke software, complex textile landscapes are transformed into physically, visually and sonically interactive environments. The research was spurred initially by Ahlquist’s observations of his daughter Ara, who has autism along with specific issues such as non-verbal communication, sensory-seeking and hypotonia.
The research integrates the fields of architecture, structural engineering, computer vision, human-computer interaction, psychiatry and kinesiology. Initial development took place, through a Research Through Making seed-funding grant from the University of Michigan – College of Architecture and Urban Planning, involving collaborators from the University of Michigan Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Music. Currently, the research involves collaboration with Costanza Colombi of the Department of Psychiatry, and Dale Ulrich sand Leach Ketcheson from the School of Kinesiology, supported by an interdisciplinary MCubed grant from the University of Michigan. Various prototypes are currently being piloted, through involvement with local centers working with children with autism, to measure the development of skills in grading of movement and identification of opportunities for social interactions.