People with autism often face phobias which are so acute they and their families avoid the situation. Scenarios created at the Blue Room suite in Gateshead include getting on a busy bus and going shopping.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, tested the new technology on nine boys aged between seven and 13.
Dr Jeremy Parr, Clinical Senior Lecturer specialising in Paediatric Neurodisability at Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience said:
‘Phobias have a huge impact on a child with autism and on the whole family.
‘Parents often find themselves taking action to avoid the situation the child fears, which can impact on school and leisure activities.’
Once in the Blue Room there is no need for the child to wear headphones or goggles.
Instead they use a tablet to move around the scene, this allows them to explore the situation that they are fearful of or find upsetting while parents watch from outside via a videolink.
Researcher Dr Morag Maskey said that one boy was so fearful shopping that he would walk behind his parents with his hood up. They therefore created a petrol station kiosk scene in the Blue Room where he picked up a newspaper.
‘With the help of the psychologist who was in the room with him, he learnt to control his anxiety with breathing and stretching exercises.
‘He then built up confidence over four sessions until he held a conversation with the shop assistant avatar.’
This particular boy is now able to go shopping with friends.
Carol Povey, director of The National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said:
‘A chance to explore stressful scenarios in a safe, virtual environment could help those whose lives are dominated by anxiety to better manage their fears, improving their quality of life.’
The original article by Sarah Griffiths on the Mail Online website can be read here
You can watch a video of the Blue Room below