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Breakthrough in virtual reality technology for autism phobias

Written by Editor's Picks, News, On Campus

Specialists at Newcastle University have developed a ‘Blue Room’ virtual reality space and have used it for the successful reduction of phobias in people with Autism.
The room uses technology from Third Eye Neurotech, and allows for a 360 degree simulation of the participant’s fear where the patient remains in full control of the situation through the use of iPad controls. Researchers did a trial involving 32 Autistic children aged between 8-14 years old, in which half received the Blue Room treatment and the other half acted as the control group, these would receive their treatment later on. Specific phobias addressed in the Blue Room were dogs, wasps, bees, lifts, fear of the dark, flying, dolls, balloons, public transport, school and walking into rooms.
After the children received the treatment, they were then reintroduced to their phobia in real life. Two weeks after the treatment, research showed that four of the first group (25%) had responded to treatment and were able to cope with their phobia. This effect remained with a total of six showing improvement after six months (38%), although one participant reported that their phobia had become worse. In the control group, five untreated participants had become worse in the six months, and when they were treated in the blue room. Results showed that overall 40% of children treated showed improvement at 2 weeks, and 45% at 6 months. The team intend to further examine why some of the participants didn’t respond to the treatment.
The funding for this project came from the National Institute for Health Research, and the Blue Room is available through the NHS for UK families suffering from intense phobias. “For many children and their families, anxiety can rule their lives as they try to avoid the situations which can trigger their child’s fears or phobia,” said Professor Jeremy Parr from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, who led these studies in the Blue Room.
One participant was able to eradicate their phobia of dogs to the extent that they now are able to own a dog, before the study this child’s reaction to seeing a dog would have caused hysterics. Another participant noted; “The blue room gave me back my independence.”

Last modified: 1st March 2019

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