Virtual Reality Helps Autistic Children Learn About Interaction

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Virtual reality is opening a new window to the world for children with autism. The security of the digital world helps them learn about social interaction. Don Champion explains how it works. Maddox Mank is using this virtual schoolyard to learn skills for real world.

The 12-year-old has high-functioning autism. Children like Maddox are very intelligent but have trouble when it comes to social interaction.

“He loves to join, loves to get involved, wants to be part of the game, part of what’s going on, but he was unsure all the time about how to work in there,” says Tim Mank, Maddox’s father.

A recent study at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas shows using virtual reality technology helps autistic children better understand emotions and intentions of others.

“We really can simulate these different relationships that the students are dealing with and it’s real life, it evokes those same emotions, ” says Maria Johnson, M.A., CCC-SLP, head of pediatric and virtual training programs in social cognition at the Center for BrainHealth.

Here, Maddox interacts with a classmate who wants to bully younger kids.

“It kinda sounds mean,” says Maddox.

Researchers give students instant feedback on how to respond in situations.

“It’s very important that they understand and they learn the skills of how to stand up for yourself and how to recognize if someone is being a good friend or a not so good friend,” says Johnson.

Maddox’s father says the technology creates a safe space to learn.

“Through the training, he was able to kind of better figure out where people were, how to read people a little better, and understand how to step into the situation,” says Mank.

He hopes this virtual reality experience will help his son make good choices in life. 

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