Virtual Technology Teaches Kids with Autism to Interact Socially

Monday, October 26, 2015

Over the past few years, a town that features a school, a bookstore, a movie theater and an apartment building has sprung up in central Dallas, not far from Love Field. Despite its attractive amenities, and the fact that it has drawn visitors from as far away as Connecticut, this major development has been largely invisible to the general public.

That’s because the town, Brainville, is made of code and pixels instead of bricks and mortar. The virtual world was created by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth, an outpost of the University of Texas at Dallas housed in the Southwestern Medical District. While in Brainville, children and adults with autism spectrum disorders or traumatic brain injuries can practice social interaction in a safe, controlled environment. In theory, they can apply lessons learned in the virtual world to real-world conversations with relatives, co-workers and, hopefully, friends.

“If you think about the idea of somebody who all they want is just to have a friend, and this program can give that to them, it makes it incredibly powerful,” says Carl Lutz, the Center for BrainHealth’s creative director and one of the architects of Brainville.

A number of similar efforts are underway at the University of North Texas, where researchers in various departments are independently using virtual reality to help people on the autism spectrum develop empathy for others, to better understand how humans process social information and to study balance and movement impairments.

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BrainHealth® is a registered service mark of The University of Texas at Dallas