Autism is a developmental condition in which the sufferer experiences difficulties in communication with other people. They struggle with social interaction and are confused by the world around them.
There is no cure for this condition but there are ways of helping someone with autism to manage their condition. These include diet, medication and various therapies. This article concentrates on a new and innovative form of therapy which is based upon virtual reality.
Computer based therapies and autism
Computers are used as a form of therapy for autism but virtual reality is a fairly new addition to technology based therapy. It is used to help autistic adults or children develop the skills necessary for independence which we take for granted. A virtual environment is an ideal way of teaching these skills before encouraging the autistic person to try these out in the real world. Plus there is the added bonus of doing this in a safe environment.
One example of this is a virtual reality system developed by a team of researchers at The University of Haifa, Israel. This system features a number if scenarios which are all designed to teach autistic children how to cross a road. The simulation shows a street with traffic lights and cars which the child interacts with. The child learns to cross a road safely and without placing them in danger or causing undue stress. Plus these skills are then practiced in a real world but controlled area.
Virtual reality treatment for social attention problems
Virtual reality is also used to help autistic children with social attention problems. An autistic child often finds it difficult to read facial expressions, pick up visual cues or pay attention to another person whilst they speak.
One example of this is a system developed in the US which aims to improve social attention in autistic children. The child wears a head mounted display (HMD) which shows images from a virtual classroom. This classroom contains a set of 3D virtual people or avatars who deliver an individual presentation. But each of these avatars starts to fade if the child looks away or loses interest.
What is important to remember is that autism is not a single condition: rather it is a spectrum which ranges from mild through to severe autism. So, a child or adult with autism will fit in somewhere on that spectrum.
What virtual reality does is to help autistic people to make sense of the world around them. They are taught skills or forms of interaction which we find easy but are complex or difficult for someone with autism.