Unfortunately information on the subject was limited to a few books so I began to search the Internet for all material that seemed related to sensory processing and HSP health. This is where my professional training became very useful. As a university researcher, I had been studying the use of digital technology by young children for some time.
I have been part of a group of Ryerson new media researchers[i] involved in the creation of a new research lab called EDGE. EDGE (Experience Design and Gaming Environments)[ii] lab research projects focus on the studying, fostering and/or developing new media practices such as serious gaming, trans-media, adaptive design and socio-economic designs.
EDGE researchers explore the aesthetics of current “making” culture and peer-to-peer culture. My own research focuses on studying and developing informal-learning communal practices that promote self-determination and the physical autonomy of marginalized individuals and communities in order to enhance social integration.
What we noticed is that objects all have a bias implied in their design, which often isolates individuals from other potential aspects of social life. Institutional aesthetics such as those of the medical community or other “expert” communities often disregard the experience (sensorial, social, mental and/or physical) that these objects create in their users. Within a new media perspective, this experience has to become key, which implies a co-design approach that involves the user community as much as the “expert” in the creation of artifacts.
In recent years, I have witnessed mesmerizing new realities made possible by new media co-designs such as the emergent digital lives of people normally marginalised, if not oppressed, by dominant communication infrastructures. Much self-determination has developed in virtual worlds: Paraplegics dancing, people meeting virtually and marrying in real life, autistic children expressing themselves with ease, physically disabled children learning about the body through gaming, communities of people helping each other cope with depression and cancer by creating art and spaces to share experiences, poor communities developing sustainable economies and virtual protesters influencing governments’ decision making.
Key to all these activities has been an incredible sense of community where people share experiences, care and help each other in order to enhance their social lives. In the physical world, I have witnessed a little girl called Zoe become an active social actor in Ryerson’s Early Learning Centre through the use of a cardboard chair build for her. The thing is, Zoe cannot move easily, nor can she talk. She had to sit in a baby chair with a caregiver constantly by her side. The semantics of this experience were tacitly excluding her from the possibility of a social life with the other children. By acquiring some physical independence from her caregiver, she became a peer and began to be integrated in other children’s social lives. Her chair is a new media object, through which Zoe acquired a new social dimension.
One thing became very evident to me, today’s children exist in both natural and digital space and I began to wonder whether new media could play a role in sensory processing health.
[ii] The EDGE Lab is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Research projects in the lab are funded by: SSHRC, MITACS, The School of Early Childhood Education’s SRC Committee, Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, the OCE Interact program, NCE and GRAND.