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Centre for Autism collaboration

Image #73 submitted by an autistic participant

We recently collaborated with researchers in the Centre for Autism at the University of Reading to investigate if autistic people find different types of images to be soothing compared to the general population. Understanding this is important so we can know if the Project Soothe images may be able to be used therapeutically with autistic people, who are often at greater risk of experiencing mental illness.

We analysed 185 soothing images submitted by autistic people and compared these to 578 images previously submitted by the general population.

We categorised the images submitted by autistic people based on their content and compared these to the categories found with the original images. This was done by two researchers, who had 90.8% agreement on their initial categorisation. They then came to a consensus on the final categories.

We found there were similar categories of images submitted, including animals, water features, nature/landscapes, trees and flowers, sky, people, city/buildings, snow, and other (those which do not fit into a specific category), and the number of images submitted within these categories by each group was not significantly different (Fisher’s exact test). However, we identified two additional categories of images that were not identified in the images submitted by the general population, which were patterns and art.

The table below summarises the results:


The findings suggest that autistic people find similar images soothing to the general population. Therefore, the Project Soothe images may be able to be used therapeutically with autistic people. Our next steps for research will be to further evaluate the use of our soothing images in this population, such as understanding if viewing the images has a positive effect on wellbeing.

This work was conducted by Prof Stella Chan (project PI), Dr Teresa Tavassoli (Associate Professor), Dr Keren MacLennan (Postdoctoral Researcher), Katie Gillan (placement student), and Natassia Bhawon (placement student).

Many thanks to Autistica and MQ for their support in recruiting through advertising to their research networks.

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Monday 08-08-22


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We are grateful to have received funding from the following organisations.