The first time you took a bus ride alone – can you remember how you felt? Or the first time you went shopping alone? Or the first time you stepped out in a new city, all alone?
Do you remember feeling a tinge of anxiety mixed with the fear of unknown?
Now, also try to remember the sense of achievement you felt when you successfully completed all those tasks for the first time. Travelled to school alone or went to buy what your parents had asked for. These activities are an essential part of one’s personal development. By accomplishing these small tasks on your own, you eventually feel like a grown up. The feeling of success gives you self-esteem, confidence and independence. This is the foundation of your personality and is what inspires you to go further, confront your fears and grow every day.
The anxiety and fear of unknown is amplified manifold for individuals diagnosed with autism or similar learning disabilities. It directly impacts their ability to be completely independent and ultimately their feeling of self-esteem.
But, can there be a solution to this? Can there be a way to make their first independent commute possible?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are serious developmental disorders that impair the ability to communicate and interact. People suffering from these disorders undergo difficulties in terms of cognitive, social, emotional, and physical health development.
While the range and severity of these symptoms can vary widely, teaching basic life skills to these students takes a lot of dedicated time and effort. The trainers need to invest a lot working individually with the students, handholding them in real life situations till they are confident enough.
Commuting independently is one of the skills systematically taught to adolescents with learning disability. Traditionally, this involves explaining the route to the students, commuting with them a few times till they feel confident to take public transport by themselves. Until such time, special transportation arrangements (taxi) are made for these students, often for many years. enable teachers to train more students effectively and in a safe environment while they’re being prepared for real world situations.
The challenge is two-fold. The first is to come up with a solution that can enable teachers to train more students effectively and in a safe environment while they’re being prepared for real world situations. And the second is to keep students motivated and engaged during the whole process.
Multiple researches have documented the effectiveness of VR Therapy in managing autism spectrum disorders. Researches have proven the positive impact of VR therapy in managing conditions like Social Anxiety, Post-stroke treatments, Psychosis etc. VR therapy is also gaining popularity in developing behavioral and cognitive skills for children and adolescents with ASD and ADHD. The efficacy of Virtual Reality stems from the fact that it offers flexible learning environments that minimize errors, time, and costs and at the same time improves users’ motivation through a safe training environment with enjoyable and user-friendly interfaces.
How VR technology can help autistic children commute independently?
Children with pre-existing learning challenges can gain immensely from VR technology and become independent at home, school and in the social community. VR-based training games can help them commute independently in a safe and controlled, yet fun environment under guided supervision.
A virtual companion can take the children through the whole experience of travelling by themselves. The simulation can gradually expose the students to real-world experiences, without overwhelming them with multiple sensory inputs in the beginning. This can enable a smooth transit from being dependent to becoming independent. The complete experience can trigger their ambition to travel farther and to newer places independently. For example, some may want to commute independently to their internships or explore better routes.
These learning concepts as well as the application can be expanded to address disorders such as social anxiety, specific phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), persecutory delusions etc. The complexity and realism of these VR experiences can be customized for different individuals to ensure the best fit. A close collaboration with therapists, clinicians, teachers is required to develop the right solutions.
Author: Srinivasulu Nasam, Chief Expert- Technology Solutions Group