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Dr Cathy Dalton: Outgoing Fellow

Project Title: Ambient Media for Attentional Restoration

Host Institution: UCD and Ulster University

Host PI: Lizbeth Goodman UCD, Prof Greg Maguire and Prof Frank Lyons Ulster University

Home Institution: UCC

Spotlight on Dr Cathy Dalton: Outgoing Fellow


Ambient Media for Attentional Restoration. 

Children and adults with ASDs have a reduced capacity to deal with their environment, both social and physical, due to lack of coping resources, often arising from differences in perception and sensory processing associated with autism. This can lead to near-constant stress and anxiety. Over 40% of children with ASDs have a co-morbid anxiety disorder of some description; according to one review, between 30% and 100% of children with autism have sensory-perceptual abnormalities of some kind. This project aims to develop a multi-sensory room with a large screen display and music or sound effects, in collaboration with children with ASD and their teachers or carers. It is envisaged that the room will reduce anxiety and challenging behaviour. The environment can be controlled depending on the needs of the child (e.g. over or under stimulated) and their particular preferences for music, lighting, imagery etc. The researcher will examine how ambient interactive digital media can be used to promote increased attentional and relaxation in multisensory environments for children with ASDs.  The research also constitutes a preliminary exploration of affective Human Computer Interaction (HCI), referring to how sensors will be able to recognize the user’s mood and response to the environment and modify the environment accordingly. The system will be evaluated in multi-sensory environments in educational settings for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), i.e. in Special Educational Needs schools. 

Dr Cathy Dalton Bio

PhD in Architecture, UCC, June 2014.
Doctoral thesis: MyRoom: A Model of Affective Responsive Architecture
Supervisors: Dr. James Harrison (CCAE), Professor Kevin McCartney, (CCAE).
PhD funded by scholarship and bursary from the HEA-funded NEMBES project, and inter-institutional interdisciplinary research initiative, investigating network embedded wireless systems.

Cathy Dalton comes from a background of architectural practice, with much of her experience in the area of healthcare architecture, design for clients with special needs, and Universal Design. Previous architectural practice informed her doctoral research into environment and wellbeing, and in particular, restorative environments. The 'MyRoom' model, developed in her PhD thesis, explores the potential for enhanced interaction between person and environment, enabled by computational technologies, including affective computing, with the overarching intention of using environmental adaptation and response to compensate for inability on the part of a user with impaired cognition to adapt to his/her environment. These concerns extend into her postdoctoral research and emerging digital design practice.

Research interests:

  • User-centred design, HCI in built environment, responsive environments, affective computing/affective environments, ambient intelligence, design and health, Universal and Inclusive Design, aesthetics.
  • Professional and research interest in the potential of architecture to function therapeutically, and the psychological and physical effects of built environment on occupants. 
  • Session Chair, first International Conference on Smart Design, Nottingham Trent University 2011.
  • PhD Symposium participant, Pervasive Health 2011, Dublin.
  • UCC Doctoral Showcase Finalist, 2011.
  • Part of winning team, People's Choice Award, for CEUD/Helen Hamlyn Instiute 24-hour Universal Design Challenge, 2010.
  • PhD Masterclass participant, ISG2010, Vancouver.
  • Principal of Dalton & O'Donnell Architects, 1993-2010
  • Design portfolio includes projects for the National Disability Authority, HSE, Kilkenny and South Tipperary Mental Health Associations, National Rehabilitation Board, OPW, in addition to corporate and private clients. Projects selected for exhibition in Irish Architecture Awards 1995, 2002, 1993.