Virtual program helps Autistic express themselves - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Virtual program helps Autistic express themselves

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(07/10/13) - A new program could help autistic children and adults better share their emotions. About one in 88 children is Autistic, and more than a half a million people fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Typically, people affected by the disorders have difficulty interacting with others and expressing emotion. Now, a new virtual reality program could help.

Barry Thomas loves playing on the computer. Barry is Autistic and has trouble with social interaction.

"Barry still doesn't really enjoy eye contact. He's still not very comfortable," says his mother, Annie.

Dr. Nilanjan Sarkar says Autism impacts an area of the brain responsible for social interaction and communication skills, making it difficult to relate to others. "They cannot recognize the facial expressions of other people."

Sarkar and his fellow researchers at Vanderbilt University are developing a virtual reality computer program they hope will help.

"They showed us a face and situation and I basically had to guess the emotion," Barry says of the program.

The program creates characters that show certain emotions, in different situations and then monitor where the patient is having difficulty with recognizing that emotional expression.

"We want to measure the child's reaction to these things, how do you measure through child's ideas, and their body's signals; physiological signals," Sarkar says.

He emphasizes that the hope is to help children and adults with Autism learn emotion by improving eye contact and social engagement, "slowly and very incrementally change their demeanor; change their facial expression to get him exposed to other types of interaction."

Barry's mother says his social interaction is improving, "definitely gotten better."

Which will help him focus on his dream of being a computer programmer.

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