Posted by Gaming and Education
By Dr. Anthony W. Palmer
People with Autism have challenges understanding nonverbal social cues. Researchers and educators are looking for better ways to help students on the Autism Spectrum develop the skills needed to interpret these social cues. In his article VR Gives Students New Ways to Learn, Calvin Hennick reports that Virtual Reality “is a useful tool for students with special needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum. Many students with autism need to practice navigating real-life settings and scenarios that neurotypical students take for granted.” He interviewed Kristen Powell, an assistive technology trainer and consultant with Chester County Intermediate Unit, she uses virtual reality to help students with special needs. She said that “There’s only so far you can go with direct instruction. I can show students a picture, but it’s not real life. To me, virtual reality is this great bridge between direct instruction and real-life situations.”
This aligns with the observation of Darren Nonis on the power of immersive environments “If the things in the environment have behavior and react to the user’s motions, he/she will take those objects more seriously as actual things and the illusion of immersion will be enhanced.” The scripts and role play in the classroom often seem artificial. They also tend to cause anxiety in students with Autism. Virtual reality provides an immersive, real-world, safe experience that is engaging. Students can practice the skills they need in this realistic environment as many times as they need.
Hennick describes how Virtual Reality creates safe opportunities for students to explore real-world scenarios, mitigates the anxiety of visiting new places, fosters growth, and hones social skills. He discusses how educators use the Lenovo Daydream VR headset, and Google Expeditions to help students “to explore sites ranging from the Great Barrier Reef and the North Pole to the Tower Bridge and Beijing’s Forbidden City.”
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Nonis, D. (2005). 3D virtual learning environments (3D VLE). Ministry of Education, Singapore.