Project Overview

The Show and Tell project centres around the development of an app that can be used on an IPhone or IPad.  The app takes the form of a Visual Story: an interactive ‘book’ that is populated by images, short texts and videos.  Because new experiences and environments can provoke anxiety in children on the autistic spectrum visual stories are used to create positive visualisations which reduce stress and enable the development of coping strategies.  The app will provide a tool which can be used by autistic children to help alleviate anxiety or fears about going to the circus thereby encouraging attendance at an enjoyable and fun event.

As part of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts the project focuses on how we might use digital technologies to increase participation with the arts.  The focus of our project is on a hard to reach and sometimes overlooked section of the audience – young people on the autistic spectrum and their parents and siblings.  We think that spending time with your family having fun is important and that engaging with the arts is a positive and sometimes life changing activity.  The Show and Tell project will be finding out whether using an interactive social story can help more autistic children gain confidence in engaging with an enjoyable event which most of us might take for granted, and we hope that increased confidence in going to an arts event could lead to increased confidence in other social situations.

There are some key gaps in the existing research environment which will be addressed by this project:

The research project draws on a range of existing research which overlaps arts and autism research.  So far we have found that in relation to autistic audiences for the arts very little research has been conducted, and there is little information on ways in which technology could be brought to bear on engaging and retaining this audience. 

Existing Social Story (TM) and technology research focuses on social skills development in education environments. This project adapts the Social Story (TM) format and cutting edge technology for use within an arts and cultural context.  The scale of this project far exceeds existing published research, offering relevant data that has genuine application in future cultural, academic and technology contexts.  

The research project is split into three distinct phases:

  1. During the early phase of the project (March – June 2014) the app will be in development and during this time there will be trial and wireframe versions which the project team will evaluate.  The more fully developed app will be trialled with a small focus group of children on the autistic spectrum and their parents.  They will be giving us vital feedback on the usability, adaptability, content and interface of the app before the final version is released.
  2. The middle phase of the project (July – October 2014) is when our main research into how the app is used before, during and after a trip to the circus takes place.  Shortly before the Circus Starr Autumn Tour we will be working with approximately 180 children and their families across six performance locations, mainly based in the North West of England.  We will run short workshops where families can familiarise themselves with the app, and then gather data from the app and from parents feedback which can tell us more about how it was used and how effective it was.  We are really pleased to include an activity to gain feedback directly from the children themselves within the app, and thereby get their reactions to their experience of the circus. 
  3. The latter phase of the project (November2014 – February 2015) is when we will be analysing the data we have gathered from the performances.  We will be supporting the data from the app and the questionnaires by carrying out some interviews with families who have been involved with the project who can give us a rich insight into their experience of the app, the circus and using technology with their autistic child.

The findings from the research will be published in a final report in February 2015.  However we have plenty of opportunities to talk about the project between then and now and the website will be updated on a regular basis.




What People Are Saying

“ Our son is autistic. His behaviour can be very challenging in public and there are very few places we can take him for entertainment. Coming to see Circus Starr enables my son to experience not only new wonderful performances, but sit amongst an audience in a Theatre or a Big Top, which teaches him social skills.”

“Social stories and visual supports can be really valuable tools for many people with autism, helping them navigate situations like days out that many of us might take for granted”

Heather Wildsmith, Cultural Development Manager, National Autistic Society

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