Sensory Perception and Autism with Becky Lydon

Learning, The Art of Sensory Processing

Becky Lyddon: Founder of Sensory Spectacle 

Learning requires more than seeing, hearing, moving or touching. We integrate what we sense and think with what we feel and how we behave.  

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) means that while some people on the spectrum share similar difficulties, they may also be affected in different ways individually.

It is becoming increasingly recognised that people on the autistic spectrum also have a sensory processing disorder. ‘In the 1960s-70s the idea of possible sensory perceptual abnormalities as one of the core features of ASD was put forward and the theory of sensory dysfunction formulated. Until recently this understanding had been largely ignored in research terms until autistic people themselves were consulted about their condition. The results demonstrated the significance of sensory issues, the focus of understanding them better and how lives particularly social skills are impacted by these experiences.

Imagine what happens when just one or all of the senses are intensified or are not present at all. This difficulty is often called sensory integration dysfunction and it is one that many individuals on the autistic spectrum experience.

There have been artists who ask us to question our sensory experiences through the materials they usebut rarely are neurological experiences considered in the production of art and used as a method of educating and creating awareness of sensory states.  Often new sensory experiences are evoked through experimentation with materials but this is not often used for creating awareness of sensory disorders.

The initiative ‘Sensory Spectacle’ promotes awareness and understanding of sensory processing difficulties by subjecting a viewer to experiences similar to that described by someone with SPD, so that they might feel its impact for themselves. It follows principals first asserted by the educationalist John Dewey, that the power of experiential learning is more valuable than the typical educational approach of simply ‘ingesting’ information.

The installation ‘Lola’s World’ replicates how people with visual processing difficulties may see the world. 

I do not have a visual processing disorder, for someone who does it may be like this, when they look at something the visual image breaks up like a mosaic.

This description references an image taken from Oliver Sack’s book ‘Migraine’ where there are four images illustrating the developmental stages of a migraine.  The use of glass mirror directly invites the viewer to see their surroundings in a way similar to Grandin’s description.

By physically entering an environment or installation rather than simply viewing an image, we are prompted to organise our sensations so that we can understand, relate and build memories of the experience. By directly encountering experiences of sensory processing difficulties, we can encourage personal reflection and response, and encourage better understanding of its potential impact on our lives.

All of my experiential installations are based on experiences described by people with SPD. There are many different ways SPD can impact lives, and this work will be constantly growing to incorporate as many personal experiences as possible to ensure the diversity and growing understanding of of SPD is communicated.


 McLeod, S. (2009) http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html, discussing Piaget, J. Psychology Of The Child, Basic books, 1972

 Rimland. 1964 in Bogdashina, O. Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome: Different Sensory Experiences, Different Perceptual Worlds, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003

 Delacato 1974 in Bogdashina, O. Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome: Different Sensory Experiences, Different Perceptual Worlds, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003

 Bogdashina, O. Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome: Different Sensory Experiences, Different Perceptual Worlds, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003

 Willingham, E. What do Autistic people want from science? In http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham, 2012

 Wilkes, K. The Sensory World of the Autistic Spectrum: a Greater Understanding, London: The National Autistic Society, 2007

 for example, Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Object’ (1936) a fur covered cup, saucer & spoon, provokes thought of how surfaces feel and our physical interaction with them (arts-in-company 2010) ‘The actual texture of the fur in this work has been described as a “rude tactile experience” which elicits responses ranging from amusement to revulsion.

 Dewey, J. Experience and Education, Pocket Books; Reprint edition (1 Jan 1997)

 Mifflin, H. The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, , 2013

  Sacks, O. The Minds Eye, London: Picador, 2010

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