Spotlight on...Cathy Dalton

Category: News Spotlight on Published: 07 March 2016


Meet Dr Cathy Dalton, an ASSISTID Fellow who is researching how our physical environment can be used to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation in children with ASD and/or ID. Cathy, an architect by profession is designing an interactive multisensory room which can automatically sense an individuals mood and adapt its surroundings appropriately, eg reduce or increase music, light or projected images. Cathy is working with design and technology experts at UCD SMARTlab and Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster and autism practitioners at Michigan State University. We asked her a few questions about her research.


1) Can you tell us in 3 sentences what your research is about?

The title of my project is 'Ambient Media for Attentional Restoration' and focuses on creating interactive digital media experiences to support relaxation, for use in sensory rooms. Anxiety is a big issue for people with ASDs, starting from just before puberty, by virtue of a combination of sensory sensitivity and problems processing information from the environment.  I’ll be testing the intervention by using wearable sensors which track affect (mood/emotion) in the users, and potentially making the content responsive to how the user is feeling.

2) Why are you interested in this issue?

Coming from a background in architectural pratice in healthcare and Inclusive Design, I’ve always had an interest both in usability, and in promoting wellbing through environmental design. I have a particular interest in stress and wellbeing, and in compensating for stress in the person through creating particular sorts of environments and experiences. Affective computing has enormous potential for people with ASDs and ID, as it can be used to overcome problems with lack of verbalisation, both of need and of their moods/emotion.

3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie-Curie Fellow?

A huge amount! I’m one of the first people from a design dicipline to be awarded such a Fellowship, and I’m very excited at the possiilities it creates. The Fellowship gives me the opportunity to become involved in creating networks for interdiciplinary research collaboration. I hope that at the end of this project, I’ll progress to running my own research projects, including researching and developing a fully responsive personal environment.

4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

Using sensing of affect in a live environment is very novel, and the insights gained from the users could prove valuable in terms of understanding the personal worlds of people with ASDs and IDs. I aim to end up with a working prototype of a usable application, that helps users manage stressand anxiety, and contributes to general wellbeing. Using familiar touchscreen technology to deliver the content makes it scalable to school and home environments. The wider implications are that training of fellows like me will help with capacity-building through mentoring of future researchers in Assistive Technology and Inclusive Design, and especially in applied design research in real-world situations.

5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?

People usually ask me to describe what I’m trying make, i.e. what the application and content will look like, and how it will operate. Many people understand the concept immediately, especially carers and teachers. This sometimes surprises me, as some of the technology is very new, but the overall concept is quite simple.

6) Tell us something which might surprise us?

I spend a lot of my time off singing! It’s really good for relaxation. Perhaps it’s not so much of a surprise, as a lot of interaction designers have a backgound in music.

Example of a multisensory room

Example of a multisensory room