The Role of Immersive Virtual Reality In Helping Autistic Children Overcome Phobias

virtual realty for autism

Medical research is evolving at a frenetic pace with new technological advancements being discovered on a daily basis. There has always been a constant quest to find the best treatment solution for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Third Eye Technologies has created an innovative platform in Consett, County Durham, UK, known as the ‘Blue Room’. The ‘Blue Room’ is a concept wherein Immersive Virtual Reality is being used to treat children with ASD. The Newcastle University Team is working in tandem with Third Eye Technologies to provide this treatment. The entire project is being facilitated through the Newcastle Academic Health Partners, a strategic alliance between the NHS England Commissioned Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorders Service (CNDS).

What is Immersive Virtual Reality?

A research team from Newcastle University and Third Eye Technologies have pioneered this concept wherein autistic children are introduced to the Immersive Virtual Reality experience in a specialized zone known as the ‘Blue Room’.

The ‘Blue room’ is an enclosed space with a screen spanning 360 degrees wherein the autistic children are able to experience reality of life through a technological spectrum that gives them the choice of controlling the scenario through an array of interactive gadgets. The use of tablets like the I-Pads are propagated in this zone instead of Virtual Reality Glasses or audio headsets as these can prove to be cumbersome for autistic children.

This platform enables children to embark on a seamless navigational experience through pre-designed real life situations such as shopping in a store, commuting in a bus or car, walking through the city, interacting with an assistant, and many such interesting scenarios. The depiction of the scenario can be scaled up to requisite proportion in terms of visuals and audio in tandem with the increased response levels of the children.

How does the Immersive Virtual Reality platform work as an effective form of treatment to help an autistic child overcome phobias or fears?

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can find basic activities that form the routine part of everyday living an ardous challenge to cope with, thereby inducing a sense of fear or phobia. The ease of operations in the Immersive Virtual Reality set-up gives an autistic child the impetus to fearlessly navigate through the said environs associated with daily routines. This independent handling of situations instills an innate sense of confidence in the child and eliminates the autism-related phobias in due course.

Is the Immersive Virtual Reality treatment administered under medical supervision?

If so, what is the prescribed duration of the treatment?

Research conducted by experts at Newcastle University in 2014 have indicated that a few children with autism showed remarkable improvement in their cognitive abilities after being administered Immersive Virtual Reality treatment and were able to tackle and surmount their phobias in an effective manner.

The atmosphere in the ‘Blue Room’ is designed to soothe the senses. The children are then initiated to undergo a few breathing techniques that ensure a relaxed state of mind while undergoing the process. Parents of the autistic children can monitor the entire treatment process through video analytics.

Currently, the Immersive Virtual Reality treatment can be availed as a NHS service as it is funded by the Children’s Commissioning Group. The duration of the prescribed treatment is limited to four sessions per child at the ‘Blue Room’ facility and is administered under the able guidance of a qualified psychologist at County Durham, UK.

The Way Forward!

The Immersive Virtual Reality experience is a breakthrough technological invention that is fast gaining momentum as a viable treatment option to help autistic children overcome their phobias to a great extent.

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