Video calling (VC) aims to create multi-modal, collaborative environments that are “just like being there.” However, we found that autistic individuals, who exhibit atypical social and cognitive processing, may not share this goal. We interviewed autistic adults about their perceptions of VC compared to other computer-mediated communications (CMC) and face-to-face interactions and developed a neurodiversity-sensitive model of CMC that describes how stressors such as sensory sensitivities, cognitive load, and anxiety, contribute to their preferences for CMC channels. We learned that they apply significant effort to construct coping strategies to support their sensory, cognitive, and social needs. These strategies include moderating their sensory inputs, creating mental models of conversation partners, and attempting to mask their autism by adopting neurotypical behaviors. Without effective strategies, interviewees experience more stress, have less capacity to interpret verbal and non-verbal cues, and feel less empowered to participate. Our findings reveal critical needs for autistic users. We suggest design opportunities to support their ability to comfortably use VC, and in doing so, point the way towards making VC more comfortable for all.
Andrew Begel is a Principal Researcher in the Ability Group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA, USA. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2005. Andrew’s research focuses on studying and helping people on the autism spectrum obtain employment and facilitate social interaction. Andrew also explores evolving job roles in the software industry and studies the growing impact of AI technologies on software engineering.
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