The very last day of Games For Change Festival 2018 was a summit dedicated entirely to XR, which includes the realm of VR. Vijay Ravindran, CEO of Floreo, Inc., took the stage to discuss how VR has the potential to help children with autism “build real-world skills.”

Ravindran began by talking statistics: one in five children in the US are affected by autism spectrum disorder. The lifetime cost of supporting an individual with autism spectrum disorder comes out to around $2.4 million dollars, a hefty amount for parents and caretakers. Accessibility to and affordability for helpful treatments and therapies can be trying, especially when factors like the location of affected individuals are put into play.

Ravindran was inspired to pursue VR’s abilities to help when his young son was diagnosed with ASD. Ravindran’s son had an opportunity to interact with VR and he not only seemed to fall in love with the experience, it seemed to help him open back up to his parents and the world.

Building Social and Communication Skills Using VR for Children With Autism at Games for Change

Floreo, Inc., is focused on ability and access. Ravindran talked about using Google Cardboard, one of the most cost-effective and accessible forms of VR rig. The VR experience that a child sees is also streamed to a tablet or similar device that a parent or teacher uses so they can understand what is going on as it is happening, and so they can coach in-the-moment. As such devices are fairly common today, this should not make too many waves either.

Ravindran then began presenting some of the programs that are a part of Floreo. One of the first lessons has to do with joint attention, which refers to the skill of successfully interacting with one other person. A child will hear an animal noise in the environment around them and will be asked to identify which animal made it. Another lesson was meant to help a user learn about police safety. This lesson begins with a friendly police officer speaking gently and asking for information such as a name and address, which also helps a user recognize important identifying information and memorize it. As it increases in difficulty, background noises encroach and the police officer may use harsher language.

Building Social and Communication Skills Using VR for Children With Autism at Games for Change
This particular simulation was inspired by real-life events.

After these demos were shown, Ravindran began talking about the positive results Floreo has seen so far. There has been a pilot testing program running with Celebrate the Children, a school for “children with alternative learning styles” as well as use in certain school districts and therapy situations. 98% of the VR sessions were completed by participants, ten out of twelve of these same participants showed improvement in “key joint attention skills.” Floreo has also received high ratings from parents, participants, and teachers.

Concerns such as sensory problems due to the headset were pushed aside, as participants responded positively. In one impressive clip, a girl engaging in self-soothing behaviors immediately relaxed when the VR goggles were put on her. This seems to demonstrate that VR can be a calming force that’s a better intervention place than the real world. The platform also enables teachers to respond and add their own lessons and directives as needed.

The suggested age range for Floreo is seven and older, though this is based on Google Cardboard’s recommendations. The pilot program consisted of children nine through sixteen and ran for a total of five weeks, with sessions three times a week for fifteen minutes. At this point, all VR lessons are delivered by special ed teachers. Ravindran also added that the catalog of programs has also expanded to include lessons about crossing streets and breathing mindfulness and other calming exercises in a train station.

For more information about Floreo, please check out their website. Although Floreo isn’t widely available at this time, the goal is to get Floreo into the hands of every parent who wants it. If you’re interested in the program, you may apply to be a part of their Beta program here.

For more information on other events offered at Games For Change, check out its programming schedule and our other related articles below. We were there for all three days, so please continue checking n3rdabl3 for more on Games For Change Festival 2018!

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