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Virtual Reality Helps Autistic Children ‘Travel’ to New Places

A school in England for children with autism is finding a new use for virtual reality, or VR headsets. Prior’s Court is a school in Berkshire, southern England. The workers at the school are also using high technology to learn more about individual students.

People with autism may find it hard to deal with places and situations they have not experienced before. VR headsets make the wearer feel like they are in a different place. For example, someone wearing a VR headset can have a 360-degree view of a place as they turn around. With video, they can even hear the sounds of the place.

Teachers at Prior’s Court are using VR to introduce children to situations like visiting a shopping mall or getting on a plane. They can do so in the safety of their classroom.

In addition to getting used to everyday places in the real world, the children may learn to enjoy new experiences such as skiing or deep-sea diving.


Student at Prior's Court Using VR Headset

Nuno Guerreiro is a computing teacher at Prior’s Court School. He told Reuters:

“Our young people, they have difficulties with sensory issues so they can find it overwhelming going to very busy places.”

Guerreiro added that children with autism find it hard to be in a new place. “They like what is familiar, they like their routine.”

The school officials hope the VR experiences will help children feel better about changes from their routine.

Prior’s Court cares for around 95 young people with more severe signs of autism. Some cannot speak or communicate their needs.

Big data on behavior

The charity is also hoping data can help. They are trying a new data collection system. The system, called Prior Insight, puts together information about each young person’s day: what they have eaten, how much sleep and exercise they have had and all their activities. Then it compares those facts to how they are behaving and medical events.

Project leader Elaine Hudgell said the school hopes to share what it learns.

“We’re hoping to not only increase our knowledge and awareness about the world of young people with autism at Prior’s Court, but we’re also hoping to be able to, in time, share that with the wider autism world.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

Words in This Story

autism – n. a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people

headsets –n. a device worn on the head that delivers sound and in some models video

overwhelming  adj. used to describe something that is so confusing, difficult, etc., that you feel unable to do it

familiar –adj. something that has been experienced many times

routine  n. a regular way of doing things in a particular order

behavior - the way a person or animal acts or behaves

awareness  n. knowledge and understanding of what is happening

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