Thanks for that @AshleaMcKay, its all good food for thought.
Some background on me. I am a developer/researcher at De Montfort University in the UK and a software startup (we do a dashboard for university energy saving competitions). I am usually working on a shoe string making analytics/visualisation software for energy management. So I don’t have a background in autism at all. However, I was an early adopter of discourse and have been trying to nurture a community interested in energy efficiency for a few years with mixed results.
But I am surrounded by people who do have connections with autism. My partner works for bamboozle, a local theatre company who work with young people with learning or behavioural difficulties, including kids on the autistic spectrum. The approach they take is very interesting. Some of my colleagues here are interested in the impact of the built environment, particularly university lecture rooms and study spaces, on students with differing needs. They have been working with other people like these guys who have an app which we use at the university.
So we are all getting together to create a project using collaborative technology (i.e. discourse) to build a community of some kind to see if it helps. Nothing is decided yet but the focus will likely be to look at what circumstances contribute to stress and what can be done about them. Initially in the university context. We will try to understand what aspects of our buildings and spaces are unhelpful and this should lead to improvements to university facilities. This is likely to spill over into a discussion around situations, sensitivities, awareness, resilience etc. I expect good things will emerge if we do it carefully and thoughtfully. We have an interdisciplinary team here to link the community with the university.
My personal interest is to study a few things. I’d like to look at how online communities can increase engagement to help a complex system such as a university to adapt to the needs of its users. I’m also interested in seeing how discourse might be adapted (just as a building might be adapted) to the needs of a given group. I specifically want to look at whether these adaptations are considered beneficial or detrimental by the general user. I wonder whether users who may be more sensitive than average can identify refinements which improve the experience for everyone. This applies equally to discourse and to buildings.
Creating a safe environment is likely to be a crucial point. I haven’t though that far ahead to be honest. Your question led to me making a connection with the way our university library operates. The library operates on four floors. The lowest floor is the noisiest place and as you go up the floors it becomes gradually quieter on each floor. At the top is silent studying like a traditional library. Users can traverse a kind of gradient, when a group of students becomes too loud they are asked to move downstairs, if they feel the environment is too loud then they move upstairs. The system is easy to balance in this way.
Perhaps it would be possible to create a similar setup where categories could be created as progressively ‘safer’ places (by some criteria which I have not thought about in detail). Safer spaces would be revealed gradually as a user becomes more trusted. This is probably not the same as the existing trust system.
So my focus is on specifying a useful set of activities which can be written into a funding application. The initial funding will be small but may lead to larger projects which will rely on the community and can help it to grow in influence.