Virtual Reality as a Teaching and Therapy Tool | Organization for Autism Research

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While the use of virtual reality in teaching and supporting people with autism is not new, educators and others are finding new ways to use the technology. A Massachusetts school district, for example, has turned to the technology to serve its students with disabilities. According to a DisabilityScoop article, the Holten Richmond Middle School of Danvers is creating a virtual reality version of the campus, after a student intern created a similar virtual reality experience for the high school. The virtual reality experiences allow students to explore their new school, locate classrooms, interact with staff, and replicate a day-in-the-life.

As the DisabilityScoop article notes, these are not the first virtual reality experiences the school has created. Its first was a tour of downtown Danvers. When teachers told the district’s technology director that it would be helpful for students who receive special education services and take a life skills class to prepare for their real-life walk around downtown, he created a 15-minute virtual walk that recreates the real-life version.

The article goes on to describe how “prepackaged virtual reality experiences” can be used and describes one such app, Floreo. The app aims to help individuals practice uncomfortable situations in a safe environment. These experiences range from conversation with a TSA agent at the airport to being pulled over by a police officer, as the Disability Scoop article describes. Virtual interaction with anxiety-inducing situations or locations helps the user practice techniques to promote calmness.

Virtual reality also has a promising future in helping individuals with autism obtain and maintain employment. Many virtual reality therapy programs include role-playing options to practice interview skills and job-oriented social situations. This practice can help individuals learn reciprocal communication and concentration in the work environment when sensory distractions persist.

A Forbes article notes that therapists and researchers started using virtual reality in the mid-1990s. As the article describes, it has been used to help people handle “situations such as job interviews, a problem with a neighbor and even dating,” as well as to prepare for public speaking and to overcome phobias.

For decades, the use of technology has granted individuals with autism an increased sense of independence, while still promoting social interaction. Virtual reality, however, can bring that same idea to a new level, and create a reality where individuals with autism feel more prepared to take on the challenges of daily life.

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