Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
12:00 AM 26th June 2024

How Interactive Light Technology Is Bringing Joy To People At Leeds Autism

Recent research revealed that the number of under-25s with an autism care plan in North Yorkshire has risen by almost 400%. Today, more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, with around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

Research suggests that autistic people are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness compared to non-autistic people. This can be due to a lack of acceptance and understanding by society, making them feel excluded.

One group tackling this issue is Leeds Autism, a local charity dedicated to supporting adults with autism through day centres and outreach programs. They’ve recently partnered with Social-Ability to introduce their technology called The Happiness Programme, which uses an interactive light projector to create games and activities from games like popping bubbles, playing the piano, colouring pictures and sweeping leaves. This initiative helps bring the community together and provides opportunities for people with autism to learn, laugh, engage, and have fun.

Photos: Leeds Autism
Photos: Leeds Autism
Inspiring positive communication

Interactive light technology can encourage verbal and physical engagement in ways that other methods might not, for example, sitting at a desk in a classroom or having a one-on-one conversation.

Louise Hughes, the deputy manager at Leeds Autism Services explains: “For people who are non-verbal or have limited verbal abilities, a lot of the conversations people have with them are instructional or functional. However, the interactive projector promotes conversations around other things, for example, exploring what’s on the screen.”

One service user’s love for Elvis was even discovered through using the light projector; they were captivated with the Elvis Radio game. This discovery might not have been made without the use of the Happiness Programme bringing out different ways of communicating and learning about other people’s interests.

Photos: Leeds Autism
Photos: Leeds Autism
Creating community

The interactive light projector has helped the communal spaces at Leeds Autism Services to become a hub of interaction, buzzing with activity. While the care and support provided at Leeds Autism is usually one-on-one, the communal spaces are there for everyone to enjoy.

Louise explains how simple things like bubbles floating around the walls can generate conversations and interactions, she said “even if people aren’t directly using it, they might pop a bubble as they walk past or strike up a conversation about bubbles later on.”

John Ramsay, the co-founder and director of Social-Ability, the provider of the Happiness Programme, added:
“Our technology is perfect for community-minded places like Leeds Autism because it can be easily adapted to cater to different physical and sensory profiles, meaning there is a way that everyone can get involved, laugh and have fun”.

Changing with the seasons

The Happiness Programme has such a wide variety of games, scenes and interactive activities that allow immersive experiences to be created based on the world outside. This is especially important for people with autism and/or learning disabilities because they might otherwise lack access to such sensory experiences or find it overwhelming.

Louise explains:
“In the summer, we can use sensory videos like sheep in a field, trains in sunny mountains or and waves crashing on the beach to help bring the outside world in. In December, we had one lady who wanted to watch snow on the projector and she even saw Santa come through the sky, she was so excited! She sat and watched that for a whole morning.”

The work at Leeds Autism is a great example of how technology can make a significant difference in the lives of people with autism and/or learning disabilities.

Through creating positive communication, creating vibrant community spaces and offering dynamic sensory experiences, the Happiness Programme has helped to bring joy and laughter to everyone at Leeds Autism.