Friday, August 04, 2006

Convergence: Video Games and Virtual Reality for Special Needs: Autism, ADD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Social Skills...

Why should those of us who work in school settings become more familiar with VR and game applications designed for children and teens with special needs?

The first reason is clear.
Students who have learning, behavior, or social skills difficulties are in our schools for many hours a day, and educators are responsible for effectively planning and implementing evidence-based intervention practices. We know that many students enjoy video games and computers, and are motivated by visual and interactive multimedia learning activities. We know that this is an area of serious research. (See the Teacher's TV website from the UK for a link to a 30 minute video, "The Games Children Play" regarding learning and interactive games.)

The second reason is that we must prepare for the significant increase of children identified as having autism spectrum disorders. Educators need effective tools to reach and teach these students, and students need access to the general curriculum. Traditional word-based instructional methods are not often effective with these students.
These students are typically visual learners who have problems in communication, language, and social skills.

The third reason is that innovative use of technology and instructional methods can benefit "at-risk" students and those who have milder disabilities. Many of these students have problems that affect attention, concentration, retrieval, working memory, academic fluency, and so forth.

We know that "at-risk" students and those with mild disabilities have a high risk of dropping out of school. Integrating new technologies and creating new ways to use existing technologies will be a challenge, but worth the effort if more students are to provided the opportunity to successfully prepare for life after high school.

For more informatoin about dropout prevention, see the National Dropout Prevention website.

The problem with adapting VR and game applications as interventions within the school environment is that we really don't have a road map to guide us. Something that works in a university lab, a university lab school, home, or clinic may not be as effective if it is not implemented in a well-planned manner in the schools.

What is new?
Dorothy Strickland, the creator of the interactive Do2Learn website, updated people about her work in the field of autism and other disorders at the Virtual Reality,Associated Technologies, and Rehabilitation Symposium in June 2006.
Case Study: Using a Virtual Reality Computer Game to Teach Fire Safety Skills to Children Diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Strickland)

Dr. Skip Rizzo, a key investigator in The Virtual Classroom, a VR environment that assesses ADHD in children, also participated at the symposium. The Virtual Classroom can be used to help children with social anxiety and has been modified to help students prepare for emergencies. (For more information, see the full article(pdf) and also read "A Classroom of the Mind", by Emily Sohn, in Science News for Kids.)

Sample of topics discussed at the symposium:

Facing the Challenge of Autism with Virtual Reality...Social Communication Challenges in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder...Designing Interaction with Visual Stimuli for Low Functioning Children with Autism: Criteria& Strategies to Engage Them...Can we Teach Individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions to Recodnize Emotions Using Interactive Multimedia?
Education and Gaming
Virtual Environments for Pediatric Populations
Round-table Discussion:
The Art and Science of Using Virtual Environments for Children with Autism, PDD, DCD, etc
Related: Virtual Environments for Social Skills Training: The Importance of Scaffolding in Practice

Georgia Tech's Autism Research Group is working on innovative applications for people with autism spectrum disorders. The website has several links to resources about autism and technology.


If your school has an interactive whiteboard or SmartBoard, you have access to a tool that can be adapted to some VR and interactive learning/social skills games for use for group and classroom activities. There is a short summary of the research and benefits of the use of interactive whiteboards on the Waukesha School's website.

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