Virtual reality program a ‘game-changer’ for children with intellectual disabilities

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Posted 1 month ago

A UniSA virtual reality program will let children with intellectual disability practice a range of life skills in a safe and controlled environment. [Source: iStock]
A UniSA virtual reality program will let children with intellectual disability practice a range of life skills in a safe and controlled environment. [Source: iStock]

Researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have developed a new virtual reality (VR) program to help children with an intellectual disability to develop essential life skills and become more independent.

Funded by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, the VR program aims to build capacity and self-confidence in children with an intellectual disability in a safe and controlled environment. 

 Project lead and Early Career Researcher, UniSA’s Stefan Michalski, says his team hopes to provide a more effective teaching platform for children with intellectual disabilities to practice essential life skills such as getting dressed, learning to cook, or even sorting the daily trash. 

 “For children with an intellectual disability, these tasks can be challenging, so finding ways for them to practice and become more independent is key,” Mr Michalski says. 

 “Our VR program will let a child practice a range of life skills in a safe and controlled environment so that they gain familiarity with the task and can build their capabilities to undertake it.”

“The beauty of VR is that it can be modified to complement an individual’s learning style. 

Mr Michalski says VR easily enables repeat scenarios so a child can practice a task until they are comfortable with their abilities. 

“Importantly, being able to practice in an online space means that children can safely experience and practice key skills without danger, which makes it much easier to teach higher-risk activities such as working with hot surfaces in a kitchen,” he says.

In Australia, around one in 22 children has an intellectual disability, representing 4.5 percent of the national population. 

The UniSA project, which is still in its initial stages, will test the VR training among children aged between 12 and 17 years old, assessing the validity and effectiveness of VR as compared with traditional rote (repetition) learning models.

 Mr Michalski says the research hopes to provide new and innovative solutions.

 “Mastering life skills undoubtedly builds confidence and self-esteem and can help a child make appropriate decisions in social, vocational and personal scenarios,” he says.

 “Life is a learning process. And while learning skills via a virtual environment is a novel approach, it’s one that we feel will make a big difference to the many children that need extra support.”

The Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation grants around $1.5 million a year to support quality research within the universities, research institutes, health services and other organisations of South Australia.

If you are interested in participating, contact Mr Michalski on 08 8302 2611 or [email protected]