VR Could Cure Almost Half Of All Autistic Kids

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VR Could Cure Almost Half Of All Autistic Kids
February 25, 2019
Virtual reality can cure autistic children of their phobias in 45 per cent of cases, and scientists claim the effects are permanent

 

- Immersive virtual reality can cure people of their phobias in 45 per cent of cases 

- So-called Blue Room allows specialists to create a safe environment for patients 

- It allows patients to face and conquer their fears in a safe space with a therapist 

- The effects of the treatment were found to be effective even six months later  

 

Virtual reality can cure autistic children of their phobias in 45 per cent of cases, and scientists claim the effects are permanent. 

 

A so-called Blue Room allows specialists to create a safe environment for patients to gently immerse themselves into stressful situations and work their way through various scenarios to confront and conquer their fears alongside a therapist. 

 

The treatment enabled 11-year-old schoolboy, Harry Mainwaring, to adopt and befriend a much-loved terrier. 

 

A separate study has also shown for the first time that the treatment works for some autistic adults. 

A so-called Blue Room allows specialists to create a safe environment for patients to gently immerse themselves into stressful situations and work their way through various scenarios to confront and conquer their fears alongside a therapist

 

The team, from Newcastle University, created virtual environments which do not require goggles to explore.  

 

It tackles specific phobias including wasps, lifts, the dark, flying, dolls, balloons, public transport, school and walking into rooms.

 

The child uses an iPad controller to move through the scenario and remains in full command of the situation.

 

The Blue Room is based in County Durham and created with the university by technology specialists Third Eye NeuroTech.

 

Research, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, has found 45 per cent of young patients benefited from the treatment six months later.

 

Professor Jeremy Parr, who led the study, said: 'For many children and their families, anxiety can rule their lives as they try to avoid the situations which can trigger their child's fears or phobia.

 

'To be able to offer an NHS treatment that works, and see the children do so well, offers hope to families who have very few treatment options for anxiety available to them.'

 

It is thought phobias affect around 25 per cent of children with autism.

 

The treatment also helped a 26-year-old to graduate from university after she overcame a crippling fear of walking through doors or down a long corridor.

 

HOW VR HELPED A BOY ADOPT A DOG 

Harry Mainwaring, 11, (pictured) was treated of his crippling fear using immersive virtual reality

 

Harry Mainwaring, 11, had a terrible phobia of dogs. 

 

He was treated of his crippling fear using immersive virtual reality technology at Newcastle University. 

 

The technology allows specialists to create a safe environment for patients to gently immerse themselves into stressful situations.

 

They then navigate the environment by controlling an iPad and work their way through various scenarios to confront and conquer their fears alongside a therapist.

 

It allowed Harry to conquer his phobia and his family was able to get a terrier called Wilfy.

 

His mother Lizzie said: 'As soon as Harry saw a dog he would become hysterical, screaming and running away.

 

'This was very dangerous as he would not look at where he was running, even if it was onto a road, as he just wanted to be nowhere near the animal.'

 

The effect of the Blue Room treatment on the Tyne Valley schoolboy has been life-changing, she said.  

The treatment enabled 11-year-old schoolboy, Harry Mainwaring, to adopt and befriend a much-loved terrier (pictured)
The team, from Newcastle University, created virtual environments which do not require goggles to explore. It tackles specific phobias including wasps, lifts, the dark, flying, dolls, balloons, public transport, school and walking into rooms
Newcastle University carried out a randomised controlled trial involving 32 children with autism aged 8 to 14 years
The child uses an iPad controller to move through the scenario and remains in full command of the situation. The Blue Room is based in County Durham and created with the university by technology specialists Third Eye NeuroTech

 

HOW VIRTUAL REALITY HELPED A 26-YEAR-OLD UNIVERSITY STUDENT TO GRADUATE 

Rebecca, 26, was diagnosed with autism four years ago and suffered a debilitating fear of walking through doorways. 

 

She was put in contact with the team and had four treatment sessions in the Blue Room. 

 

She said: 'The fear of going through a door or down a corridor with doors leading off it was so intense that it led to me to drop out of University for a year. The whole situation was not good. 

 

'The first time I was in the Blue Room I was nervous, even though I had been told what to expect. The scene in front of me was like you'd find in a typical University corridor with doors stretching out in front of me. 

 

'By the end of the third session in the Blue Room, I was able to push open and go through all the doors presented to me in the virtual scene. Then I had to do it in real life. 

 

'Before the sessions, when I was out and about, my support workers had to go through doors before me - after the sessions, I went through first. The Blue Room gave me back my independence. 

 

'I took what I had learned in the Blue Room and practised so that I am able to do things that I hadn't before, such as shopping by myself, travelling on the Metro and even travelling to Japan on my own. 

 

'Most importantly I was able to return to my university studies graduating last year with a 2. 1.'  

Professor Jeremy Parr, who led the study, said: 'For many children and their families, anxiety can rule their lives as they try to avoid the situations which can trigger their child's fears or phobia

 

Newcastle University carried out a randomised controlled trial involving 32 children with autism aged 8 to 14 years.

 

Half received treatment in the Blue Room straight away and half acted as a control group, receiving delayed treatment six months later.

 

After receiving the treatment and with the support of their parents, the children were then introduced to the scenario they feared in the real world.

Two weeks after treatment, the research shows that four of the first 16 (25 per cent) had responded to treatment and were able to cope with a specific phobia.

 

This effect remained, with a total of six showing improvement after six months (38 per cent), however, one reported a worsening of their phobia.

 

Meanwhile, in the control group, five untreated participants had become worse in the six months.

 

The control group went on to be treated in the Blue Room after this time. Results showed that overall 40 per cent of children treated showed improvement at two weeks, and 45 per cent at six months.

 

Harry Mainwaring, 11, made his recovery from his phobia of dogs and his family was able to get a terrier called Wilfy.

 

His mother Lizzie said: 'As soon as Harry saw a dog he would become hysterical, screaming and running away.

 

'This was very dangerous as he would not look at where he was running, even if it was onto a road, as he just wanted to be nowhere near the animal.'

 

The effect of the Blue Room treatment on the Tyne Valley schoolboy has been life-changing, she said.

 

'It is amazing to see how Harry now is with dogs,' she said.

 

'He loves our dog and whenever he sees others he's happy if they approach him and he'll stroke them.' 

 

The university said NHS treatment is available to UK families through the Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorders Service at Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

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