Greenside Adventure.

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I named this website spaced out and smiling after days like today. Today is Sunday and i am sat in the cafe with my little Mac. I’m very spacey today (needed help dressing etc!) but i have a MASSIVE grin on my face. Not many spoons but much happiness.

A few days ago i visited the Greenside school along with other members of my BBC team. Greenside is a special school, with a huge range of students with different needs. We had a whole bunch of reasons to go for a visit:

  1. I was invited to talk to parents in the evening.
  2. We have various BBC games / apps / services which we’d like to test with students. We want to make sure what we do doesn’t pose any barriers to them. We’ve been looking for a school to work with on these sorts of things
  3. A pilot run of our VR research project.

It’s been a few years since Dawn (ASC lead at the school) invited me to come do a talk at the school. We had to wait till i had the available energy and for it to fit into the broader focus of my work.

The day was absolutely amazing. Here’s a quick run through of what happened (in no particular order)


In the evening i did one of my talks for a group of parents / professionals / staff. The talk is all about how i approach engineering my life. How all the various elements ultimately support my goals. Like building an arch with my goals acting as the keystone.

This isn’t a write up of the presentation, but i’ll cover a few of the key parts just to recap.

The presentation starts by discussing the idea that i consider myself an engineer. I define engineering as developing and optimising solutions to problems. I also used the OED definition of “working artfully to bring something about”

One of the things i engineer is my life. I work to build structures in my life to achieve my goals. I also need to build those structures on something, in my case i build on-top of my identity.

The first third of the talk covered my Goals and identity. The main concepts where that i value autonomy (decision making) over independence (acting alone) and that i am striving to be productive and use my skills to make the world better. I do this by supporting all the various BBC teams and products (everything from iPlayer to CBeebies) but also by working on standards and doing presentations etc.

The second thing is my identity. I explained how i generally avoid the medical model of autism (seeing it as a number of deficits) and instead focus not on ‘the autism’ but on environments. Bad environments disable me, so i put my effort into fixing them rather than masking or changing myself. I aim to live authentically as myself. No masking.

This lines up with my work, because my work is about fixing bad digital environments. I also explained that i use “spoons” to account for the energy i use. I pace my energy throughout the day.

I then talked about my work and the challenges i have with the work environment. Traveling, communication and understanding others.

I explained how i approach travel near my home (safe area is green, yellow area if a friend is home) and further afield (red area with someone else only). Oli was supporting me that day, so i also explained how he keeps stopping me from getting killed (which is good).

I then very quickly talked about my home life. The structures we apply (sensory diets + routine) and the tools we use like cups and night time clocks.

In all i talked for about an hour or so. The talk seemed to go well, everyone was very nice after and i had some great questions.

VR Research.

The talk was great and fun, but that was in the evening. For most of the day, i’d been working with Oli to run our VR research rig.

Due to having the wrong tent (doh) and not being able to access a big enough car / van (double doh) we had re-engineered half the test rig the night before. We built it and set it up in the school atrium. We also brought with us a 360 degree video viewer and a few applications.

The first participant we had was amazing. The participant loved maps and geo-spacial data. We setup the viewer with an application which allowed him to do a full 360 view of any place he chose. He was a little reluctant at first, but as his confidence grew so did his enjoyment. Our role was to be observing for barriers (and we noticed a few) but the education possibilities and the enthusiasm did surprise us. His teacher had many ideas for how it could be used. He loved it!

We then worked with a number of other participants with differing needs. First with the 360 video viewer and then towards the end of the school day with the full immersive VR experience in the atrium. It was fascinating to watch it in use. Our research is intended to highlight barriers in order for us to develop some principles behind inclusive VR experiences. During the day we observed all sorts of useful things.

After the presentation in the evening we also had 11 people also try the experience. This was a great outcome for us. Observing many users interact with new technology is always fun. It was super valuable for us as it was effectively a pilot test of out entire research setup. It all worked marvellously!

Games & apps.

Two other members of my team spent the day discussing BBC content with staff and students. We’re building up to doing some research around how the students use things like cbeebies. I don’t know the details of what they did yet, but they where extremely happy about it.

In all, the trip was amazing. It took a huge amount of energy and i’ve had a few difficult days since, but it was totally worth it. This looks to be the start of something really epic.


Before i wrap up, i’d like to add a little unexpected angle. This wasn’t my first time to a special school. However, the visit to the school hit me emotionally more than i expected. The school is amazing, the staff really seemed to understand and appreciate their learners.

I got to play with a few of the cool things (like the outside instruments) and i loved it. I don’t get to let myself play very often and it was liberating. I am grateful to Dawn and the school for giving me the chance to explore and play.

At the same time, i also felt some internal guilt for being there. As a kid i guess i was always pushed away from enjoying any of the autie things. Luckily these days i have the autonomy to decide for myself, but it still raised some odd feelings.

Final thoughts.

We visited the school so we could learn from the students / staff / parents and i could share some of my experiences with them. I think we all learnt from each other.

The biggest suprise for was my emotional response. I didn’t expect to learn something new about myself, but i am glad i did. I am very excited about the future.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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