Virtual Reality for Autism Special Report: Research and Experiences

One of the wonderful aspects of virtual reality is the ability to experience presence through immersive story telling. In other words, to feel like you are actually there in your virtual environment and very much part of the story that is unfolding around you. This allows for creative imaginations to run wild and dream up some wonderful never before experienced scenarios. But what if we could use this technology to help understand reality more? What if we could help more of us appreciate how some people actually live on a day to day basis? A tool to transport us into how things that we consider to be basic everyday tasks but for others they may be challenging uncomfortable experiences. In a world where compassion and empathy seems to be a rare trait, how can we help ignite caring for other humans in a more profound way? Well, lets take an in-depth look at how virtual reality helps with this by shining a spotlight on VR for Autism.

I don’t have anybody in my immediate family who has been diagnosed with Autism but have many friends who have children who have been. I’m not an expert and actually, I don’t really know too much about it. From what I understand, old school stereotypes are not something that should be relied on. In fact, there seems to be a spectrum but individuals can have more or less of some conditions/symptoms than others. So there is a no one shoe that fits all. But what if you only know the stereotype symptoms? How full on do you know them? Do you really know them if you have never experienced them for yourself? Many symptoms of Autism are subject to perception and unless you are an individual with the condition then how can you possibly fully understand what it looks and feels like from an individual perspective? How can you then take an overview guesstimate of that and then dig beneath the layers to understand how those symptoms can flare up during certain triggers or how they impact going about your day to day responsibilities? The truth is that we can’t, really, not truly understand. We could raise our awareness by watching documentaries, listening to lectures, speaking with our friends and family with the condition but there’s still a gap between knowing the theory and experiencing it.

Autistic children using virtual reality. Source: edweek.org

That’s where virtual reality comes in. In this special edition blog I will take you through virtual reality Autism experiences, Autism VR apps, virtual reality research papers, Autism VR articles and more. I have taken a great deal of time to compile this information for you in the hope that it helps somebody out there in one way or another. Supporting the immersive industry and encouraging more humanitarian projects within the sector is something that I am personally passionate about. I have spend many years working on virtual reality for dementia with my company Pivotal Reality and I know how time consuming research can be. I published an article for the Springer Biomedical Series last year about VR Dementia use cases and the cost to buy that book shocked me. So much so that I wouldn’t even buy a copy for my family. Yes, I am aware that as a founder of a company, society may frown upon that opinion but I am remaining true to myself and my roots. I’m not in the business of ripping people off! I never have and I never will. That’s not me. I am therefore creating this blog so that this information is out there for free. If you have found this to be useful then perhaps you might like to sign up to my monthly newsletter or follow this blog to show your support but there’s no pressure to do that.

Autism VR Simulators

According to the National Autistic Society 99% of people in the UK have heard of Autism but only 16% of autistic people feel the public truly understands it.

Taken from The National Autistic Society

As I’ve already alluded to, the most powerful way to help people understand what Autism is like is through VR apps and experiences that are designed to put the user in the shoes of someone who has the condition. One of my all time favourite real world examples of this is a VR app called iSenseVR developed by Friendly Access, Glasgow School of Art and Crag3D. Their VR app is focused on allowing people who have Autism to prepare for a visit to Aberdeen International Airport in Scotland using gradual scenarios and exposure therapy with a view to reduce anxiety for attending the airport in real life. Its such a beautiful concept and allows the user to build up on the amount of stress & anxiety triggers that they are exposed to such as a hand dryer in the toilets, a broken cup at the cafe, security check process and waiting at the boarding gate. In addition to the virtual reality exposure therapy they then have the opportunity to try it out in the real world! Aberdeen International Airport was recreated exactly as is in real life so users who did have the chance to experience the VR app had the benefit of already knowing the layout of the building. They tested their work with a small group and published their findings here. In summary, they saw an enthusiasm amongst the participants who were actively engaged with the experience. However, there is further research to be carried out. This I imagine is due to the rigid location of users because they would need to test both the virtual experience as well as attend Aberdeen International Airport too so that the results can be conclusive. Plus you need to have a large group of participants, all of which would ideally have been diagnosed with Autism too. Not an easy task and something to consider yourself if you plan to design and implement a VR experience that is reliant on a real world location too. It’s very niche but I love it. I think it’s extremely heartwarming that Glynn Morris CEO of Family Access went ahead and created this app with the support of Dr Matt Poyade from Glasgow School of Art and Crag3D. How meaningful will it be for families within the area or those needing to travel to Aberdeen International Airport to have this amazing accessibility tool at the ready for them?!

Another example of a VR app that helps you to understand what it may be like living as someone who has Autism is The Autism Simulator created by Autismity. In this virtual reality experience you are exposed to how visuals and sounds can be distorted for those living with Autism. It appears to be an extreme experience and I’m not confident that I would recommend trying this out to anybody who has epilepsy. Having said that, it looks pretty powerful and definitely an experience that you will not forget in a hurry. I believe once you’ve tried it, you’ll always remember what it felt like to be in those shoes and would hope that understanding and compassion for autism will stay with you for life!

Available from the Oculus Store

Sadly, I struggled to find many more examples of virtual reality applications to share with you. Other than Evenness Sensory Space which is available from Oculus Store, Steam & Viveport but it is geared more towards senses in general. Then there’s also Jam Studio available on Steam & Viveport. Jam Studio is quite expensive but that’s because it includes other medtech experiences too. I’m not sure if you are able to buy the Autistic experience/chapter as a standalone purchase.

Autism 360° Videos (VR Simulators)

Don’t be disheartened as there are a number of 360° videos that you can view in VR. Easily the most accessible method of enjoying an app for purpose like these ones. You can access them via ANY VR headset through the browser or YouTube VR app from the various VR stores. Or you can use a smartphone, VR viewer (e.g. a specific smartphone VR Headset or even cardboard VR Glasses would do the job) and view the 360° from YouTube. You should know that the quality of VR experience using Smartphones is such a basic level of what is available on today’s VR market. You should also be warned that VR sickness using these smartphone options is pretty high.)

Although the ultimate VR experience should be photo-realistic virtual reality graphics to allow for the most ‘believable’ experience, I do think there is still a place for 360° videos in the industry, regardless of their quality. How else are we going to experiment and explore new mediums to help society appreciate all members of our community? Nobody wants to put their foot in it, nobody wants to be rude, nobody wants to say/do anything offensive by mistake and nobody wants that awkwardness of not knowing what to say or do when faced with the unknown. Knowledge is power but experiencing is human. So even if it’s a big challenge to help us experience real world scenarios, I have massive respect for those who push the boundaries forward and at least try new things to help us improve as human beings. So 360° videos has earned their place in this Virtual Reality for Autism Special Report: Research and Experiences!

The National Autistic Society produced a 360° video called Too Much Information to help show what Autism can be like too. Warning: this video contains flashing lights, bright colours and sudden loud sounds. Their website states that they have helped over 56 million people experience “first hand” what Autism can be like. So don’t underestimate the power of 360° video, it would be interesting to see the numbers of those who have tried the virtual reality applications at the start of this report for a comparison. But I think it would be safe to say that 360° video is still the most accessible method to reach a larger audience. When you are working on something that ultimately is helping society as well as giving a voice to those with invisible disabilities then it should not be ignored.

Caution: Flashing lights, bright colours, loud and sudden noises. I would also add that it can be a difficult watch especially if watched via a virtual reality headset.

The Counselling Directory have uploaded a lovely video of some reactions to this experience which I think you may also like to see from a research perspective. In fact, we all would benefit from viewing. It would be lovely to be mindful of accessibility and understanding when we are creating new products or services or even for every day interactions that we may come across.

User reactions to The National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information VR Autism experience. Source: Counselling Directory via YouTube

The BBC made Creating a Positive Environment project (CAPE) to raise awareness of the struggles that people with neurodivergent conditions (Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s etc) have to overcome within a workplace environment. Caution: this video also shows flashing and strobe lighting.

The Guardian created The Party: A Virtual Experience of Autism. A 360° video where you follow the story of 16 year old Layla who has been recently diagnosed with Autism. Layla’s is attending a family birthday party and this film immerses us in what that looks and feels like from her perspective. It’s a lovely story and beautifully made. The Guardian had input from various Autism experts & foundations to ensure their effects were reflected accurately too. You can also access this experience via Oculus Video app from the Oculus Store.

More VR Autism Use Cases

Now that we have taken some time to look at both virtual reality and 360° videos that act as Autism Simulators, let’s move on to see how else VR is being used for Autism in other meaningful ways. Virtual Reality is a compelling medium for training solutions because of its simulation ability, storytelling delivery and emotional connectivity all whilst trainees are directly immersed within that virtual experience without distraction. It’s no surprise that virtual reality users report that they are more likely to remember content from within a virtual reality learning space than they would from more traditional teaching methods.

Training

There was a terrible incident happened in 2016 when a man with Autism had been shot at 3 times by a US Police Officer after mistaking a silver toy truck he was holding as a weapon. The shots missed the Autistic man but his caretaker was wounded. Experts have said that some people with Autism may not know how to react to a police encounter with some looking away or not doing what they have been asked to do. This may be perceived as being defiant or resistant to the demands of the police.

After hearing about this, The Children’s Hospitals for Autism Research wanted to help kids and adults with Autism understand what it would be like to have a sudden encounter with the police. By even exposing them to the words that are commonly used or how the presence of the virtual experience would feel would all go towards preparing the user for a real world encounter, should that ever happen. The app was created by a company called Floreo and they have published a whole load of different VR Autism Research papers on their website. Here’s the related related research publication for this particular VR experience. The following clip was taken from a 6abc.com broadcast:

There’s another VR police for Autism experience made by Axon that uses 360° video as a virtual reality Autism police training experience to help people to understand more about people with Autism, how they can behave, interact and with the goal to raise awareness with their police forces whilst keeping innocent citizens safe.

Video from apnews.com

Research

You have to remember that virtual reality for Autism is such a niche area and it can be challenging to move the needle because the medium is relatively new compared to traditional methods. However, despite that, there is a vast amount of research, articles and video evidence of how impactful virtual reality is for people with Autism. Let’s show you some highlights below.

Therapeutic

Watch the WIONews video below to see for yourself the impact using virtual reality experiences has on children with strong to severe Autism. In summary, the observations are that the children are engaged with their virtual experiences. We hear from both parent and professional practitioner perspectives and conclude that this technology is absolutely making a difference to these children.

Lets go back to Floreo for another one of their cracking videos that show you an observers perspective of what VR is capable of doing in terms of engagement, language improvement, calmness, behavioural and so much more. All from a 5 minute or so virtual reality app experience. That’s it. (For quickness, jump to 4 mins 21 secs)

Freethink video of Floreo VR for Autism (Play from 4 mins 21 secs to jump to example of results)

You would be forgiven after reading this Virtual Reality for Autism Special Report to think that in order to strike any meaningful impact you must have a bespoke customised VR application. Not true 🙂 I came across a lovely YouTube video by Justin & Nick that shows you otherwise. We watch as Nolan tries VR for the first time through a variety of consumer applications like Job Simulator, Google Tiltbrush, Space Pirate Trainer etc. Nolan’s reactions are endearing and shows that although a little awkward, the use of controllers is also possible for him so perhaps others with Autism too. I know from my research that elderly people and those living with dementia struggle with the controllers too so I tend to focus on that user pain point more than most people. The conclusion is that consumer virtual reality is also an option here too. And like Nolan says at the end of this video, you should “Try it”.

Source: YouTube Channel, Justin & Nick – My Autistic Brother Nolan Tried HTC Vive

Useful Research Papers

VR Used to Teach Driving Lessons to People with Autism

VR Training for Public Speaking for People with Autism

Autism and Virtual Reality Headsets

Effectiveness of Virtual Reality for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Evidence-Based Systematic Review

Did I miss anything?

Thanks for reading this far! If you know about any virtual reality applications or experiences that are geared towards Autism then please get in touch to let me know. If you are working on something within this area then I would love to hear from you and learn more.

I am passionate about the virtual reality industry and want to concentrate my efforts on shining a light on those pioneers who are investing their time to help shape the landscape. Let me help you reach the eyes and ears of those who are hungry to learn about you. Have a virtual reality related product and want to advertise here? Get in touch.

What topic do you want a deep dive on next? I will be working on further blog posts but tell me what you are curious to learn more about and I will add your needs to my list.

Don’t forget to follow this blog to read more interesting use cases of virtual reality!

Take care & keep healthy
Suzanne

Suzanne Showcasing VR latest product review video – Kiwi Design 5 in 1 VR Face Cover Set for Oculus Quest

Immersive News Round-Up August 2019 (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of August’s Immersive News Round-Up!  If you read part 1 you will know how action packed the month began!  So this time I thought it would be helpful for you if I categorised this blog into sections.  I will call-out that this is subjective to what I would term as items belonging to each category so scan the other areas in case something of interest to you is hiding elsewhere because of my sorting skills!!!

Alrighty then, let’s go []-)

Immersive Market News:

Holographic content company investment success via Tipatat

VR is a turning point for the Spa & Wellness industries via Forbes

Rec Room is now accessible via iPhone and iPad via Shawn Whiting

6D.ai are partnering with Qualcomm to create shared experiences between HMD & Smartphones for the first time (including ability to support android devices now!) via 6D.ai

AltspaceVR comes to Oculus Quest on 12th September via AltspaceVR

SideQuest has more active users reported than that of the Rift.  Developers and players alike are flocking to this store for content via SideQuestVR

Respects:

Nate Mitchell, last remaining co-founder at Oculus leaves via Nate Mitchell

MRTV YouTube Kickstarter campaign is a success 

Jaroslav Beck (Co-Founder of Beatsaber) gives back to the community via Jaroslav Beck

AR Content:

6d.ai 3D model advancements via Matt Miesnieks

Can you tell the difference between a real sandwich and an AR one via Helen Papagiannis, Ph.D

Interesting use of LightSpace AR app to retrace your steps via Bobby Carlton

VR Content:

No Man’s Sky released in VR via Loki Eliot

West World Awakening comes to VR via West World HBO

Community member Phased Dragon manages to get Google Lens to work inside VR via Educators In VR

Immersive Art & Design Content

Rec Room Marker creations via Shawn Whiting

Rec Room 2D art Contest via Shawn Whiting

VR Chat user created space via Lakuza

VR Artists share their processes via Kent Bye

VR Dev:

How to build virtual worlds as a new form of self expression via Ryan Schultz

Google Sign language AI turns hand gestures into speech via Optomize Ltd

VRTK version 4 needs your support via The Stone Fox

Oculus Insight AI Tracking explanation video via Oculus

VR Hardware:

VR treadmill via Evan Kirstel

Feel Real sensory mask breaks their silence with an update via Feel Real

Sad news that the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 doesn’t support the Samsung Gear VR Headset.  This could see the beginning of the end for the Samsung Gear VR.

In the same article, from UploadVR, the same scenario has happened with the new Google Pixel 3a not supporting Daydream either.

VR Events:

This month I attended & presented in virtual reality Disneyland thanks to Chuck Webster’s Disney Data Analytics & Immersive tech event in Altspace!

Bigscreen releases a Modern Cinema with launch party via Bigscreen VR

Lindsey Stirling performs live as a virtual reality avatar thanks to WaveXR via Andy Fidel 

Opportunities:

HTC Vive The Global Accelerator Program accepting applications until the end of September

Panel opportunity to showcase use cases in enterprise & beyond via Myra B

Unity Student Ambassador Program accepting applications via Unity

Showcase your Start-Up at SXSW Pitch 2020.  Deadline 15th November via Amy Peck

Podcasts & Talks

John Carmack appears on the Joe Rogan Podcast via John Carmack

XR for Business – publishing 3 podcasts a week now so you are spoiled for choice here!

Further reading/resources:

Using Immersive Tools & Spatial Networks (Social VR & Social AR) for Education & Remote Teaching by Andy Fidel

Walmart CEO says that VR Training saved lives in El Paso shooting via Stanford VR

Female Disruptors Site Launched via Navah Berg

Research:

How do we further advance the science of therapeutic VR? via Brennan Spiegel, MD

Bit of personal news as well from me – I’m a published author!

How VR helps with Mental Health via Kier Simmons

Other news:

Women who are long serving, respected, talented and admired in the gaming/tech industry have made serious accusations of sexual harassment & assault dating back several years.  The Gaming industry is experiencing its own ‘Me Too’ movement.  Sadly the virtual reality community is not untouched as Oculus Co-Founder, Michael Antonov, is also accused too.  This is NOT OK.  Although I am pleased to see the reactions of the entire community coming together to comfort and support the brave women who are voicing what happened to them.

A number of job vacancies this month have started to specify a need for virtual & augmented reality market awareness for their candidate required skills via Suzanne Lee & Cameron Brown

Phew – fantastic to see so much hard work, collaborations and progress happening across the industry!  I’m seriously going to have to figure out how to anchor sections in this blog or perhaps even break these fortnightly blogs down into sub sections eg go back to a category a page again!!!

Thanks for reading!  Take care and see you again in 2 weeks time []-)
Suzanne

Immersive News Round-Up August 2019 (part 1)

The schools might be out but the immersive community are definitely in!  Everyone is working hard to bring us some action packed updates this month!  There’s actually so much going on that I’ve decided to split this monthly round-up into 2 parts – a mid-month update and then another end of month update.

(AR Hardware) NReal AR glasses due to launch early 2020

(VR Market) BigScreen VR to launch on Playstation VR in 2020:

(AR Content) DoodleLens 1.2 is released so now you can animate your drawings in AR too!  Nice work!

(AR Content) A really cool looking AR Book Effect

(Health VR: Research) VR Memory palaces – “We found that virtual memory palaces in HMD condition provide a superior memory recall ability compared to the desktop condition.” I (Suzanne)  quoted this research paper in my Springer Series contribution called Biomedical Visualisation volume 3 which is due for release later this month.  Its such a fascinating area and my VR for dementia work that I do with Pivotal Reality falls into this perfectly.

(Virtual Reality equipment/hardware) VR bungee is now a thing and it looks like fun!

(VR Content Creation) YouTube’s VR Creator Lab is open to applicants!  I looked at this when it came to London last month.  Note that one of the conditions is that you need to 10k subscribers to apply…  On that note… don’t forget to check out & sub my YouTube channel…!  ;-D ty

(Immersive Market) 5 Ways Technology is Transforming the Healthcare Industry [Infographic]

(AR Hardware) Leap Motion’s North Star is the DK1 of AR: hands-on preview and how to buy it!

(AR Filters/content) Body Tracking AR filters

(VR Hardware Market) Zuckerberg to Shareholders: ‘Quest is selling as fast as we can make them’

(AR design/hardware) AR Glasses could offer hands-free communication without saying a word

(VR Software) Couple of months ago a metaverse working group did a field test for traversing disparate virtual worlds to see how they interconnect.  I absolutely love this and think it is an important design mechanic that we should be looking at for connectivity & accessibility purposes!  It’s a fascinating read []-)

(VR Event) OC6 registration is now live!  I can’t go so if you are going to attend then make sure you all tweet content out for me… pretty please!  I’ll look to see if there will be a VR event somewhere to cover the livestream and join in that way for now perhaps…

(VR Event) So Tenacious D went a played a live concert in VR thanks to Oculus Venues and I went along!!!  What a belter, loved it and yes, I will be going to more concerts & events like this in VR.  So should you too!

If you are interested in a re-cap of the Tenacious D concert then I create this YouTube video.  No actual concert footage was allowed but I felt it was important to document this special moment in history in some fashion so that was the rationale behind this video.

(Immersive Resources & Insight & advertising) The Immersive Directory launched the first wave of their blog series!  I am totally honoured to report that I was one of the first contributors alongside so many talented others!

(AR Developer Support) I honestly like the personal touch of this next piece.  The MagicLeapers are lending out a helping hand to the developer community by providing their Open Hours with Developer Relations Programme.  I know of some others who could perhaps benefit from adopting that style of relationship building and support.

(VR Design) Embodying taller avatars can make us feel more confident in real life

(AR content creation) Facebook wants Quill to be a one-stop shop for VR animators

(VR use case) The Future of Virtual Reality in the Workplace – a topic close to my heart!  The ability to connect with people as an embodied presence within a virtual environment is pretty magical.  That’s the reason I am such an advocate of social VR!!  Being able to connect with you wherever you are whilst I am sitting in Scotland is mind-blowingly awesome!!!

(AR Content) AR being used at the Tate Museum to help bring the stories about the pieces of art to life for attendees

(AR Content) Can we bring back famous scientists from history as virtual tutors telling us about how they thought about their discoveries?  Sooooo cool right?!

(Immersive Market Insight) Apple has posted job vacancies for AR & VR positions!  Speculation is for Apple branded AR Glasses to be released in 2020/2021 but we will see… 

(AR Hardware) Startup Human Capable’s ‘Norm Glasses’ AR Smartglasses Are Like Google Glass in a Regular Pair of Shades

(VR Content) A VR comic experience coming soon! I’m interested in seeing this a) because I think the idea of a virtual comic experience is ace and b) because they  mention that they use Quill 2.0 and I only recently found out about Quill from the tweet quoted above in  this blog.  So that’s quite exciting!

(VR Health: Research) How VR is helping a girl with chronic pain in having a better life

(VR Content) Man oh man, I love this next one.  Differently Fast is a competitive game that you need to check out.  It is indeed different but absolutely beautifully different in that you are competing to be the fasted at wheelchair racing.  I love this so much and don’t even get me started on the inclusive side of things ❤

(Immersive use cases) How AR VR will disrupt the travel & photography industry via Tech for Travel’s How Smart Tech is Improving Your Travel Blog

(VR Health: Research) Surgical Training Validation Study at UCLA

(VR Market) Sad to hear that Vreal has shut up shop.  Wishing everybody involved all the best with their next steps.

(VR Creation, Design & Developer Resource) VR Production considerations, questions to consider, UX, costs

(VR Showcase/Use Case) Acadicus is a virtual learning platform that allows anyone to teach and learn in VR by providing everything needed to access, create and share content created by instructors.

(VR Health: Research) Future of Neuroscience & VR report that was compiled by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

(VR Hardware/Controllers) The etee VR controllers from a company called TG0 can detect where a user’s fingers are and how much pressure is being applied

(AR Market / Use case) Google AR Maps has started rolling out on Android and iOS

(VR Metaverse / Software / Design) Kim Nevelsteen wants to create the Metaverse by offering the glue to connect already existing online virtual worlds

(VR Research / publication opportunity) Submit your research to a forthcoming special section of the British Journal of Educational Technology

(AR Market / Insight) Snap to raise $1 billion to invest in AR, possible acquisitions

(AR Hardware) Moving beyond traditional fitness trackers that you wear on your wrists, the FORM Swim Goggles actually bring AR to you during your swim

(AR Content / Creation) Create a VR tour of your classroom using a regular phone + Google Street View App + Google Tour Creator

I told you this month has already been action packed!  Is there anything here that particularly caught your eye?  I purposely embedded the tweets to share my sources with you so that you can pursue more out for yourself.  If, however, you ever want to get in touch so that readers can hear about your immersive product, service, tools, tricks, resources, publications then by all means please do get in touch!  I am here to showcase the immersive industry after-all, well VR is my passion but I do love it’s cousins too and to be honest, I don’t see too many other places helping to shine a light on immersive tech so why not me, right?!

Thanks for tuning in, take care & see you all again in 2 weeks time.
Suzanne