Virtual Reality Helps Autistic Children

Through recent research conducted at the University of Haifa it was found that children with autism improved their safety when crossing the street after practicing with a unique virtual reality. “Children with a degree of autism rarely have opportunities to experience or learn to cope with everyday situations. The use of virtual simulations that are used in this research enables them to acquire skills that will enable them done, somewhat independent, “teachers expressed Josman and Weiss, Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Haifa. The independence of children with autism depends on receiving treatment in a natural environment. One of the main problems they face is their inability to learn how to cross the street, a necessary skill for independent living. Acquiring this skill would be a step forward in the attainment of independence in children.

Most methods for teaching street crossing have designed to practice in the classroom, and have proven ineffective in children with autism. The best way to teach these children is through repeated practice in natural settings, but the dangers of learning in a real environment obviously prohibits this method. This is where virtual reality is very effective, as demonstrated by the research team that included Hadass Milika Ben-Chaim, a former student in the Occupational Therapy Program for master’s and Shula Friedrich, Head of Ofer School for Children Autistic, in addition Prof. Josman and Prof. Weiss. Six autistic children, ages 7-12, were devoted one month to learn how to cross virtual streets: Wait for it to change the virtual light at the crosswalk and look from right to left for virtual cars using a simulation program created by Yuval Naveh.

Children in the study showed a substantial improvement in the learning process. At the beginning of the study the average child was able to use the 2nd level of the software while at the end they dominated the 9th level, characterized by the increase in vehicles traveling at high speed. However, the research team had not intended to teach a virtual skill; they wanted to see if the children were able to transfer the skills they learned in virtual real world, the daily routine. A local area with a street and crosswalk, complete with lights, was used for this purpose. The ability of children to cross the street safely was tested, for example, if they stopped and waited on the sidewalk if the green light before crossing. The children were brought to the practice area before and after their virtual learning. Here too, the children exhibited an improvement in their skills after training in the virtual street, three of the children showed a significant improvement. One participant, aged 16, had participated in past school safety program on the road, but he was not able to learn to cross the street wisely. Followed by learning in a virtual environment, he learned to stand on the sidewalk before crossing the street, looking at the color of traffic lights, cross only when the light was green and not wait too long. “Previous studies have shown that autistic children respond well to computer learning. In this research we learned that the intelligence level or degree of severity of autism does not affect the ability of children to understand the system and therefore this is an important way of improving cognitive and social abilities.



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