In April, we celebrate ‘World Autism Awareness Day’ to increase our understanding and acceptance of people with autism and to consider how we can best support them. Virtual reality has made significant strides beyond games and sci-fi fiction in recent years. Several studies have shown that this immersive technology can effectively treat attention problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PROVEN Reality is committed to revolutionizing healthcare with advanced VR solutions, and our specialists developed a virtual reality application, ‘bouncing ball,’ to work on children’s attention problems in a controlled environment.
The use case article outlines the methodology, stages, and therapist’s role in using the therapy and reports on a successful pilot study with four children who became more independent, attentive, and calm. Read on
Areas of concern for ASD children
ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior, making it challenging for ASD children to engage and participate in everyday activities around them. Children with ASD may experience a range of attention problems, including difficulty sustaining attention, being easily distracted, and struggling to shift their attention from one task or activity to another. One of the common reasons for this condition is that they often have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information and stimuli in their environment, leading to sensory overload. For example, a child with ASD may be easily distracted by background noise, bright lights, or other sensory stimuli that a neurotypical child might be able to ignore. In addition to sensory issues, attention problems in children with ASD may also be related to difficulties with cognitive processes responsible for planning, organizing, and completing tasks.
Virtual reality therapy
PROVEN Reality (United Arab of Emirates, Dubai), together with specialists working with people with ASD, conducted research and created a methodology for working with children with special needs using virtual reality technology. Based on this methodology, our team developed a virtual reality application with a controlled environment in which specialists can also work on children’s attention problems. We have also prepared the guideline with detailed explanations to therapists on how to make a session with a child, including how to implement the stages of working with virtual reality in a session and how to consolidate the acquired skills in the classroom and at home with parents. When using the application in a virtual reality headset, the child is not distracted by external stimuli, can concentrate on training with a specialist fully, and is continually attending to the same environment controlled by the therapist.
In our virtual reality application, ASD children find themselves in a monochromatic room where a ball or a toy car moves. The therapist can observe on the phone application what the child sees, where he points with his hands (the child’s hands are being monitored), and also set various application parameters. The therapist can:
- Change the color of the room,
- Change the color and texture of the ball,
- Change the nature of the movement of the ball (jumps, rolls, flies around the room, moves like a pendulum, etc.),
- Add additional obstacles behind which the ball hides,
- Add a frame in which he will ask the child to take the ball,
- Play animations of a toy car entering and leaving the garage,
- Add an extra item,
- And so on
The specialist can ask the child to focus on a specific object, make an assumption about where the object will move, think about where it is hidden, and so on. Thanks to the virtual reality headset, the child can fully concentrate on the task and will not have the opportunity to look for “hints” to complete the task from the surrounding adults.
The guideline contains 25 activities aimed at training various components related to concentration. However, after learning to use our application, therapists can develop their methods of working with children.
Four children (6, 7, 7, and 8 years old) participated in the pilot approbation of the method of working with the application. Working with a virtual reality headset was carried out for 17-18 lessons.
In the trial, we saw great enthusiasm from children who wanted to practice using virtual reality. Classes were held three times a week (except for the days when the children were sick). Parents were also given homework assignments for consolidation (their number did not match the exercises in the office, so the last activities were combined). Parents were motivated and tried to complete all tasks. To assess the changes in ADS children before and after VR therapy, we used the ‘find and cross out’ and ‘Correction test – Landolt rings’ methods.
Findings of the study
Our team of researchers shared the detailed findings of the project in a psychological science journal. We are sharing some of the significant changes noticed after the virtual reality therapy session with us in the table below.
|Age of the child||Before the VR therapy||After the VR therapy|
|6-year-old girl||– The girl had difficulty sitting still|
– She was often seen jumping from her seat regularly
– Easily got distracted and forgot tasks
– Refused to perform correction test after some time (Landolt rings)
|– She stopped jumping during the class|
– Her ‘restlessness’ decreased
– Rarely distracted and improved memory
– Completed the task for 3 minutes and didn’t skip lines
|7-year-old boy (A)||– Forgot to perform an errand|
– Concentration when performing an unattractive task (<1 min)
– Unfocused and easily distracted
|– Rarely fail to complete a chore. He began to listen better and follow instructions (Parents’ observation) |
– Concentration while performing attractive tasks improved up to 5 mins
– His focus improved, and distraction lessened
|7-year-old boy (B)||– Cannot complete everyday activities, daily chores|
– Could focus not more than 5 minutes when interacting with a familiar object (Therapist’s observation)
|– He rarely made mistakes while completing everyday activities|
– Able to focus for up to 10 minutes when interacting with a familiar object (playing with his favorite toy or games) (Therapist’s observation)
|8-year-old boy||– The child is easily distracted by insignificant extraneous stimuli during training or developmental activities.|
– If you give the child a simple errand (for example, to bring something from another room), he often forgets it on the way
|– The child is rarely distracted by insignificant extraneous stimuli during training or developmental activities.|
– He sometimes forgets when given a simple errand (for example, to bring something from another room)
The bottom line
Incorporating PROVEN Reality’s virtual reality application into treating individuals specializing in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has shown promise in improving attention and behavior-related metrics. However, further investigations are required to elucidate the extent of the application’s benefits on this population. At present, a study is underway to examine the effects of utilizing the application on children aged 4-5 years old.
Note: This blog is an excerpt from our published article in a renowned psychological science journal. You can read the full article here