I spend a lot of time wondering what life is really like for my daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Watching her navigate the day-to-day is one thing: comprehending the sources of her meltdowns and frequent distress from the inside is something else entirely.
So I am both fascinated and a bit worried by the prospect of finding out for “real” how she experiences day-to-day life, albeit via a computer simulation.
I am of course interested in anything that may help me to understand and support her better. However, having also been seen her bullied because of her eccentricities, I am concerned from the outset that this program, Auti-Sim, does not render her life experience as freakish or weird. So I feel very apprehensive as I download the software and click “play”.
At first I am staring into blue sky and bright, bright clouds that dazzle. It takes me a little while to get my bearings as I manipulate the arrow keys: every small movement seems exaggeratedly fast and my surroundings, lumpish and crudely-coloured, whizz by me. I tap more slowly and sit further back in my chair but the jerkiness doesn’t alter. I start to get annoyed, then realise it’s not me that’s doing this, it’s the settings. Or rather, it is me. It’s the me the game is giving me. Already I don’t like it. I feel out of control and uncomfortable.
As I progress unsteadily across a playground rendered in gritty dots, I become aware of a shouting in the background that is getting louder as I walk on. The children I pass have blank faces and bright red T-shirts that hurt my eyes.
Suddenly the shouting is overlaid with shrieks. They are like something from a horror film and make my skin crawl. From somewhere a malevolent voice starts reciting the alphabet in staccato tones. I want to get out of here. I’ve got a splitting headache and a sensation like sand in my teeth. I don’t like what this is showing me. I don’t want this to be my daughter’s daily experience. I don’t want to have to take this on board.
Auti-Sim was created by a team of developers at a Hacking Health event in Vancouver, Canada, earlier this year, in an attempt to simulate the hypersensitivity of autistic children.
After their initial demo attracted positive responses from many autistic people, they plan to extend it into a fully-fledged game, to boost awareness of the autistic experience.
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