What is Autism?
Autism, also known as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), results in sub-normal mental development in the affected child. The signs of this disorder can be seen at an early stage in the child’s life. This results in problems for the child to communicate and interact with others.
Different children show varying degrees of symptoms. There is no known cause for the development of this disorder. It is understood that ASD is caused by a combination of several genetic and environmental factors which inhibit the natural mental development of the child.
However, there are several therapeutic methods that can help the child to live a better life. Today, Virtual Reality (VR) is an innovative technology which is increasingly being used to improve the inhibited skills in children and adults affected by Autism.
Signs of Autism
Autism usually starts to show its symptoms at around 2 to 3 years of age. It is mostly recognized by several specific signs, including:
- Delay or lack of learning spoken language
- Repetitive and obsessive behavior, such as hand flapping, twirling, etc
- Less or no eye contact
- Less interest in peer interaction and establishing normal relationships
- Lack of spontaneity or creative imagination normally seen in children
- Obsession with inanimate objects, such as a particular toy or blanket, etc
Although Autism is not ‘curable,’ there are several treatment therapies that are known to improve the child’s condition. These therapies are aimed at teaching the basic communication, interaction and everyday skills that will help the affected child to lead an independent and normal life as they grow up.
Autism is caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors during pregnancy. Although there is no treatment that can get rid of this condition completely, the advances in medical science have enabled us to provide therapeutic treatments that are designed to integrate the affected child into the society.
These therapeutic, educational methods aim to decrease the severity of individual symptoms in an Autistic child. As the types of symptoms and their severity differ in each affected child, the treatment methods are designed individually, for optimum results.
These are the common therapies that help an Autistic child to better integrate into society:
- Behavioral therapy
- Speech-language therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Social skills training
- Feeding therapy
These therapeutic treatment methods are used in combination mostly, to ensure the best results through improving the essential life skills in the affected children.
To ensure that the Autism treatment methods are most effective it is important that the child gets diagnosed as soon as possible. Early intervention helps therapists and doctors to formulate the best-suited treatment for the individual child, according to their individual types and severity of symptoms.
Virtual Reality for Autism Treatment
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the latest and most innovative technologies today. It is normally used in video games and for other recreational purposes. However, some experts have devised ways to use this wonderful technology in improving an Autistic child’s overall behavior and interactive skills remarkably.
Therapists and doctors who work with Autistic children, and even the children’s parents, realize how hard it is to teach the basic speech, language, behavioral and social interactive skills to the child through conventional methods. This is where virtual reality (VR) comes in use effectively.
Virtual Reality Social Cognition Training (VR-SCT)Therapy for Autism
The Virtual Reality Social Cognition Training (VR-SCT) is an excellent and effective method for practicing and refining social skills in Autistic children, through role-playing. These programs are designed to imitate real-life situations of social interactions in a regulated virtual environment (VE), without the fear of embarrassment.
Virtual reality (VR) provides an excellent platform for Autistic children, their parents and their therapists to practice dynamic and real-life interactions without any inhibitions. It allows the child to learn the essential skills in a safe and controlled environment. This ensures easy, stress-free and interesting practice for the child.
Conventional Autism therapies require adults to be actively involved. However, the condition of decreased social interactive skills inhibits the effectiveness of such therapies in some Autistic children. Conventional methods have been found to improve cognition and social skills over time. However, other areas, such as social cognition, mental development,and conversational skills, have shown significantly low improvement rate by numerous research studies.
As real-life practice is the best way to learn a new skill, VR provides an excellent resort. It gives therapists a safe, secure and controlled environment – which is dynamic and almost realistic – to teach normal development skills.
Benefits of Virtual Reality (VR) for Autism Treatment
VR derives its utility through there presentation of real-life experiences in a secure and regulated environment, which allows numerous repetition and uninhibited practice through exposure to stimulated social situations. These VE programs are designed to emulate numerous social scenarios and replicate social conditions that are faced in everyday life normally.
For example, the avatars in VR scenarios can be modified with appropriate speech pattern and behavioral programs which suit the particular demographic. One of the best points about VR-SCT is that it allows the affected child to practice social interaction skills in a comfortable and familiar environment, which gets rid of any fear of rejection or mistakes in the child.
Even adults affected by ASD are found to have remarkably decreased their anxiety, and increased their confidence when dealing with social scenarios in real-life, after having practiced the social interaction skills using VR-SCT.
The dynamic nature of VR, combined with the ability to integrate almost innumerable social interaction scenarios, has allowed people with Autism to practice their social skills most effectively. The VR-SCT can put the Autistic person in numerous scenarios, such as outdoors on the street, on the playground, in the classroom, or standing in a queue with their peers. These are all aimed at encouraging peer-to-peer interaction and the ability to express and recognize emotions.
Overall, there have been numerous research studies conducted on the viability of using VR-SCT method for teaching social, communication and personal skills to children and adults affected with ASD. These studies have found that these children and adults benefitted remarkably through this innovative and effective Autism treatment method.