Why Reactive Colours Works

by Sebastian Dern

orginially published on the Reactive Colours Blog (see ReacTickles)

Sebastian Dern is part of the Autism and Computing team and was the presenter of the Reactive Colours workshop at Autscape (2005), his observation of the project is written below:

Reactive Colours is a brilliant and simple way to explain "autism". Lets call "autistic people" very focused people. This is how Reactive Colours works:

People can focus. This works by focusing on a task. Focus can be parameterized. That means, different people at different times focus gradually different amount of their attention at a task.

People sometimes described as "autistic" tend to be good at channelling their available attention on a single task, and are pretty task-focused. This is sometimes called "monotropic tendency" or tendency to create or be in "attention-tunnels", as if these people in such a state of mind would live in their own world, which is not exactly the case. Rather, they tend to be more selective and more intensive about what they share in a given moment with the world. For example, many have enhanced perception and pick up and enjoy what they sense, though some people find that intensity painful.

This way of engaging with the world is applied in Reactive Colours: Reactive Colours provides fun non-task activities. These activities are appealing to the sensory interest of people. What is essential to the principle of Reactive Colours is that activities are all without a task or a goal. Using ReacTickles in a computer creates an appealing sensory environment, in which people's attention is not assigned to completion of task or goal other than basic use of a relative predictable computer contained program. Because the program itself does not demand focusing on a task, relative more attention is freely available for different use other that completing tasks. This state of mind is sometimes called "polytropic". It allows for multitasking, given a certain amount of available attention. By thinking at two things at once, connections between the two can be made. Existing connections requiring freely available attention can be accessed.

It is using and making new connections in a polytropic state of mind, that supports learning, understanding and using relative polytropic system such as spontaneous exploration, social interaction, and building contextualisation. It allows monotropic people to do all the things they can do in an environment that offers less opportunity to hyperfocus on anything. Interest in exploration of such an environment is sustained by ReacTickles that do work with design elements monotropic people find attractive, controllable, and still creative and variable, encouraging exploration.

Reactive Colours works because it lets task-focussed people unfocused with a non-task game that some of them enjoy. "The reactive way" to deal with task-driven people can therefore inform any environment in which people in a monotropic state of mind function: provide non-task situations and leave people explore when they experience available because unfocused attention. This is really a universal feature of the human mind, and differs from person to person only in point of time and degree.

More in the ideas of how attention works in humans here: Monotropism Hypothesis
An example of a reactive way of dealing with people: An Autistic Friendship

To learn more about attention distribution, you can also join your local Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong club.. enjoy that!!.


Related articles:

Dinah Murray, Mike Lesser and Wendy Lawson: Monotropism Hypothesis

Dinah Murray: An Autistic Friendship

Dinah Murray and Mike Lesser: Autism and Computing

Reactive Colours: Computation and Playful Engagement by Wendy Keay-Bright

ReacTickles 2 (formerly Reactive Colours) is available from TAGLearning

Inclusion through technology for autistic children by Dinah Murray & Wendy Lawson

Why ICT (PDF) by Dinah Murray

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