Sarah – Are you a ‘big picture’ person or do you focus on details?
People’s brains have different preferences for how they process information. Some people tend to remember the gist of what’s happened while others seem better at remembering conversations verbatim. Some people spot every minute change in the environment whilst others focus their attention only on differences that are relevant to them. Most people are somewhere in between.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects about 1% of the population. You’ve probably heard about the social and communication difficulties that individuals with autism have. But you may not know that individuals with autism tend to prefer processing detailed information and specific exemplars. Individuals with autism perceive the world differently. They tend to be sensitive to details in what they see, but also in what they hear, smell, taste and touch. Sometimes the world can become quite overwhelming!
We can tap into this detail-focus by using games where you’re asked to spot a small shape hidden within a larger image. Individuals with autism tend to excel beyond the general population in their ability to quickly locate the small shape.
How quickly can you find all the house shapes here?
Rachael – Those diagnosed with autism tend to be ‘local processors’, meaning that they are particularly good a processing the details of an image, but are sometimes unable able to process globally, to see ‘the bigger picture’. This was a fascinating idea in the context of patchwork – an image that combines small details to build a bigger picture.
There are simple tests that can determine whether one is a local or global processor and these are what formed the basis of the imagery for this patchwork. The test contains embedded figures, often recognisable geometric shapes such as the house motif I have chosen to use here.
Looking at this abstract patchwork somebody with autism would be able to quickly spot the small images hidden within it but, hopefully, this should be much harder to those without it – creating for them the same sense of disorientation that one with autism faces in everyday life. The disorientation of not being able to predict a person’s next actions or what is going to come next, something that comes with being a local processor, is what I wanted to create with this piece. Sewing the patchwork seemed like the perfect language to explore ideas surrounding autism. The hugely repetitive act of hand sewing on such a large scale, for me, reflected the way in which those with Autism can become fixated on a repetitive behaviour, particularly one that benefits from being a local processor, as a way of dealing with that disorientation they experience in the world around them.