Supporting Students With Autism Using Virtual Reality

Author: Lumination

Date: 17th Nov 2022

In August 2022, South Australia broke new ground in Australia, appointing the country’s first Assistant Minister for Autism. In this new role, Emily Bourke MLC will coordinate and lead the SA government’s initiatives to support students with autism in the education system, including investment in clinical support, as well as placing autism lead teachers within public primary school classrooms in SA.

This is an important step. The number of Australians affected by an autism-related condition has increased significantly in recent years, largely due to better understanding of the conditions and more effective diagnoses. The primary school age demographic, in particular, has seen major increases.


Investing in inclusivity

Investment in personnel, training and support for students with autism is crucial, but it will need to be backed up by investment in technology. Immersive technology is proven to provide vital assistance to those on the autism spectrum, as well as empower other students with the empathy and perspective they need to work effectively with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) classmates.

Studies have found that ASD students can develop valuable real-world skills within virtual immersive environments, demonstrating how we can be supporting students with autism using virtual reality. Research has also concluded that immersive VR tools are effective in targeting the specific core impairments experienced by ASD students, aiding students as they work through these impairments in a stress-free manner.

Here at Lumination, we have been inspired by this research, and also by the practical applications of VR technology in Australian schools. We — along with researchers and key figures in the field of special education — believe that immersive solutions can make study, and life, much simpler and more meaningful for students across the country. The Suneden Specialist School is among the first learning institutions to gain access to our technology, and we’re excited about how VR and AR can change approaches to autism in the classroom.


Deploying VR technology at Suneden Specialist School

Naomi Guglielmo, a registered teacher and one of our learning designers, visited the Suneden Specialist School to discover how we can support students with autism using virtual reality. For Naomi and the Lumination team, it’s vital these solutions are deployed on more than just an auxiliary basis — instead, they should directly support the learning objectives for each class, particularly classes with ASD students.

With this aim in mind, Naomi met with one of Suneden’s teachers, discovering precisely what units she was working on and what content she was covering in class. The teacher was preparing a humanities and social sciences lesson on sports around the world, so Naomi worked with her to find virtual and augmented reality materials that fed directly into the core aims for the class.

Working with Suneden’s staff and students, Naomi was able to demonstrate how the use of immersive technology can enhance the learning experience for all. On a broad level, VR and AR elevate levels of engagement and exploration during the lesson, but the results are particularly empowering when viewed in an ASD context.

“I had a fantastic time leading the classroom at Suneden,” says Guglielmo. “The school has such inspirational staff, and the overall feel of the school was quite lovely. I relished in the opportunity to engage with the students and to see just how excited they were when viewing virtual reality experiences.”

Naomi highlighted how teachers can use 360-degree cameras to produce their own content. For example, three-dimensional videos of day-to-day activities can help ASD students explore interactions that may be difficult for them in the real world. This can also help them build vital skills in a stress- and risk-free virtual environment. 

In addition, AR can be used to enhance communication for students with ASD-related conditions. These students can use VR/AR technology as Augmentative and Assistive Communication (AAC) solutions, helping those on the autism spectrum to articulate their emotions to others. Meanwhile, other students and individuals can utilise VR and AR to increase their own levels of empathy and understanding for those with ASD-related conditions. This latter idea is particularly interesting — the aim is not to divide the learning experience — but instead to create a more inclusive environment for all students.


The next steps for Lumination in schools

So far, this has been an incredible journey. While working with Suneden, Naomi was impressed by the learning atmosphere for students and excitement with which they approached the virtual reality experience, demonstrating just inclusive this technology can be.

In addition to Suneden, Adelaide West Special School is also working with Lumination solutions to develop lessons and foster inclusion on a broad scale, and we hope Suneden and Adelaide West will be the first of many to adopt these immersive solutions across the country and beyond. It’s exciting to see where educators and school administrators can take this tech in the future and how much they can achieve for students here in SA and elsewhere.

“Our goal is to help teachers develop self-efficacy in using emerging technologies so they can feel confident in using virtual and augmented reality in the classroom and incorporate it into their teaching,” adds Guglielmo.

But this doesn’t mean simply leaving schools to it. Instead, we want to work alongside schools, teachers and leadership in South Australia and elsewhere across the country, offering the kind of support they need to deliver incredible experiences for students of all backgrounds. To achieve this, we are dedicating time to developing lesson plans that get the best from these solutions.

This is an exciting time, as VR and AR open up a whole universe of possibilities for students and educators alike. Sign up for our newsletter and join us on this journey.

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