Virtual reality helping children with autism - WNEM TV 5

Virtual reality helping children with autism

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Kids who are higher functioning can have above average intelligence, but can struggle socially. Now, technology is helping them overcome their difficulties.

Maddox Mank is using the virtual schoolyard to learn skills for the real-world. The 12-year-old has high-functioning autism.

Children like Maddox are very intelligent but have trouble when it comes to social interaction.

“He loves to join, loves to get involved, wants to be part of the game part of what's going on but he was unsure all the time of how to work in there,” his father Tim Mank said.

A recent study at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas showed using virtual reality technology helps autistic children better understand emotions and intentions of others.

"Through our software, we're able to change what we look like, change what we sound like. So we can really simulate these different relationships that the students are dealing with,” said Maria Johnson with the Center for BrainHealth.

In one situation, Maddox interacts with a classmate who wants to bully younger kids.

“It kinda sounds mean,” Maddox said.

Researchers give students instant feedback on how to respond in situations.

“It's very important that they understand and learn the skills of how to standup for yourself and how to recognize if someone is being a good friend or not,” Johnson said.

Maddox's father said the technology creates a safe space to learn.

“Through the training he was able to better figure out how to read people a little better,” Mank said.

He hopes the virtual reality experience will help his son make good choices in real-life.

The Center for BrainHealth wants to expand access to its virtual reality training and even plans to create opportunities for students in other parts of the country to go through the training, remotely.

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