Category Archives: Sensory issues

Venice Architectural Biennale, 2021

Pandemic Birds – a video composite of jackdaws flying over Cork City at sunrise, from my window at home during lockdown.

Some of my work on perceptions of public space features in the exhibition “Autistic Imaginaries of Architectural Space: The World from an Autistic Lens” curated by architect Magda Mostafa, who co-developed the Autism Friendly University Design Guide with Dublin City University.

You can visit a static gallery of my own contribution or visit a virtual tour of “Time Space Existence” at the Palazzon Bembo, created by the European Centre for Culture.

I am more proud of this collection of work than of anything else I have done. This is a good time for me to reflect on my needs as an autistic (city-dwelling) adult, and on the amazing support I have had over the past (more than) decade from Aspect, the support service for autistic adults in Cork & Kerry.

Visit here: stuartneilson.com/Exhibitions/Venice%202021/

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Mapping shared public space using motion intensity

The junction of Grand Parade and Washington Street, with bollards and lamp-posts obstructing pedestrian desire-lines, which are fluid and can not be contained by the designed crossing layout.

As part of another project, I started created “heatmaps” of the motion intensity into video recordings of everyday events. These are not images of literal heat, but assessments of the amount of visual change across the video field, converted into a coloured scale, where “heat” (from blue to red) is a readily-understood representation. My main motivation was to assess where and to identify what attracts attention, or distracts from attention, and to express how the environment feels from an autistic, attention-deficit (ADD/ADHD) perspective. These heatmaps of the amount and location of visual change became quite informative maps of how people use space, and how design constrains people from using space effectively.

(A minimal, fully-functional code sample is appended to the end of this post. You will need Python, and the OpenCV and Numpy libraries installed.)

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Car-free Cork in 15 minutes, walking and cycling

Cork City centre is within 15 minutes walk (green) for 22,000 residents, within 30 minutes walk (cyan) for 53,000 residents and 45 minutes walk, or 20 minutes cycling (pink) for 106,000 residents.

Cork City centre is compact, varied and contains all the amenities for most people’s everyday needs. The City centre shops and facilities are within 15 minutes walk (green) for 22,530 residents, within 30 minutes walk (cyan) for 53,481 residents and 45 minutes walk, or 20 minutes cycling (pink) for 106,200 residents.

These residents are, equally, the consumer base of many of the businesses within Cork City centre, and the audience for appeals on footfall and invigorating activity in Cork.

I use the boundaries of Cork City, as defined at the time of the 2016 census, to count and plot how many can (and do!) walk, cycle, use public transport and live without cars or private motorised vehicles in Cork City. Links to the full CSO Small Area Population Statistics (SAPS) are included (and repeated in full at the end), as well as some excellent sources of information about the City, including the Pedestrian Cork Survey 2020.

(See also “Conserving accesible urban space” for a discussion on accessibility and sensory overload in Cork City).

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“My Autistic Fight Song” by Rosie Weldon

Rosie Weldon received an autism diagnosis at 25, by no means either the beginning or end of her journey of self-discovery and world shaping. In her memoir, “My Autistic Fight Song”, she presents a raw, intense and very positive view into family, education, love and work from her autistic perspective.

“My Autistic Fight Song” by Rosie Weldon is available in print or ebook form from 1 April 2020.

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Lacunae: Interview with Stuart Neilson, on the Lived Experience of Asperger’s Syndrome

Last year I was interviewed by Marie Walsh for a special issue of the journal Lacunae, the International Journal for Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Issue 16 of Lacunae had a special theme of autism reflected in Jean-Claude Maleval and Michel Grollier “Mottron’s Happy Autist is Not Kanner’s,” and Rob Weatherill, in “Being (Not) in the World Without a Father” in addition to this interview. (You can read the full table of contents or buy a copy from Karnac Books).

The full text of the interview is reproduced below with permission. Marie Walsh did an excellent job of shepherding my rambling thoughts into a cohesive narrative.

You can cite this interview as: Walsh, Marie. (2018). “Interview with Stuart Neilson, on the Lived Experience of Asperger’s Syndrome”. Lacunae, 16, 54-63.

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Conserving accesible urban space

Urban space is changing fast and despite the potential to increase urban space through growth, technology and social progress, the reality is often increasing exclusion and isolation. My own experience is one of a city increasingly paved over, squared off, noisier and lacking in calm spaces. Traffic, busy people and blank commercial facades have replaced more welcoming districts, because accessibility and family-friendly features are not a developer priority – they maximise borrowings, ramp up local property prices, take the increase in plot value and move on. Sustainable community is not a short-term money-spinner.

My perspective is very much the social exclusion and sensory impact of unsympathetic development. This post includes some images of Cork City and data maps of changing city demographics, at the level of the 74 electoral districts, to outline how the city is changing.

Further reading:

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Sensory Issues and Social Inclusion

This is the full text of my chapter on sensory issues in public spaces, in the anthology “Knowing Why: Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life and Autism”. The anthology presents contributions from a diverse group of people who were diagnosed autistic in adulthood. The book explores what it is like to feel so different, in so many ways, from other people without having known why; and then discovering that autism is not merely an explanation, but also an experience and identity shared by many others. Learning that your differences are autistic, even late in adulthood, is a positive event and useful knowledge for these writers.

You can purchase the book (and support the work of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, ASAN) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million.

The book contents are: Emerging From Burnout – Erin Human; Being the Dictionary: On Passions, Diagnosis, and Integration – A.J. Odasso; Sensory Issues and Social Inclusion – Stuart Neilson; Working While Autistic – Kelly Bron Johnson; All of Me: How Do I Know Where Blackness Ends and Neurodivergence Begins? – Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu; Using Intersecting Identities and Radically Accepting Communities to Increase Coping Skills – Samantha Hack; Autistic Navigation of Chronic Illness, Mental Illness, and Healthcare – Amythest Schaber; The Spectrum and Depression: Four Stories – M. Kelter; Cyborgs, Luddites, and To-Do List Apps: An Autistic Use of Technology – A.C. Buchanan.

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New Book: “Knowing Why – Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life and Autism”

I have a chapter in a new anthology of experiences written by a diverse group of people who were diagnosed autistic in adulthood. The book explores what it is like to feel so different, in so many ways, from other people without having known why; and then discovering that autism is not merely an explanation, but also an experience and identity shared by many others. Learning that your differences are autistic, even late in adulthood, is a positive event and useful knowledge for these writers.

The anthology is available in paperback (£19.05) or as a Kindle eBook (£9.99) from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.

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Interview article by Marie Walshe in Lacunae, July 2018

Lacunae, the APPI International Journal for Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Issue 16 (July 2018) is specially-themed to autism with a translated article by the brilliant Jean-Claude Maleval, “Mottron’s Autist is not Kanner’s”; an interview with Irish autist Dr. Stuart Neilson conducted by Marie Walshe; Rob Weatherill on fatherhood “Being (Not) in the World Without a Father.”
Editor Eve Watson writes “Highlighting the importance of first-hand accounts in approaching the subjective experience of the being on the autistic spectrum an interview with Irish autist, Dr. Stuart Neilson, provides a fascinating first-hand account of the lived experience of Asperger’s Syndrome. The interview was conducted by Marie Walshe, on behalf of Lacunae and shows there is much to discern from Dr.  Neilson’s personal narrative of living with Asperger’s.”

Motion and attention in the classroom (or workplace)

I have been making some images recently that attempt to capture, for me, the ‘feel’ of an event or action. Photographers talk about “the decisive moment”, the title of Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s most famous book (although the French title is actually “Images on the Sly”). I am thinking more of “the decisive motion” – what event, movement or attention-grabbing object fills the frame in memory? I have been taking short sequences of video and creating a single image from all of the frames, to locate images that capture my sense of memory.

The best of these include motion heatmaps, images coloured by the amount of movement in each pixel. In a classroom this should be a map of the things that matter (the teacher, friends, intentional moving images), rather than distractions (fidgeting, wafting posters and reflections). The image above shows areas of high motion (red) and stillness (blue) in a classroom.

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