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Virtual Reality and Learning Social Skills: Help for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

It’s no secret that Autism is on the rise, but what's being done about it? Researchers have invested a lot of time and money to figure out ways to reach kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a few have come up with an approach called "Virtual Reality."

Virtual reality is a realistic simulation of an environment by a computer system. It’s technology taking you to a scene that feels and looks real, and for some kids with Aspergers and high functioning autism (HFA), it can be a safe way to learn to interact with others.

Virtual reality allows these "special needs" kids to practice all-important reciprocal social interaction skills in a safe environment. Virtual characters are more predictable than real peers, and sometimes more patient, and so young people on the autism spectrum may find it easier to engage in the kinds of interactions that we ultimately hope they will have in the real world with their real friends.

The “virtual reality” concept involves using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that the child can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world. Scientists, theorists and engineers have designed dozens of devices and applications to achieve this goal. Opinions differ on what exactly constitutes a true virtual reality experience, but in general it should include:
  • The ability to track the user's motions, particularly his head and eye movements, and correspondingly adjust the images on the user's display to reflect the change in perspective
  • Three-dimensional images that appear to be life-sized from the perspective of the user

In a “virtual reality” environment, the user experiences “immersion” (i.e., the feeling of being inside and a part of that world). The child is also able to interact with his environment in meaningful ways. The combination of a sense of “immersion” and “interactivity” is called “telepresence,” which is the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment (i.e., an effective virtual reality experience causes you to become unaware of your real surroundings and focus on your existence inside the virtual environment).

The “Virtual Reality” project started over ten years ago with a study designed to determine whether virtual reality could help Aspergers and HFA kids learn the beginning skills of street crossing. These kids were placed in a virtual world and practiced correctly observing and responding to the virtual world situations. The results indicated that they could - and did - accept learning in a virtual world.

Here’s how it works: There are two modes of interaction in virtual learning systems. In one, the youngster interacts directly with a virtual peer. In another, the virtual peer is controlled by the youngster. In the future, it is hoped that virtual reality can go even further in helping kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Virtual peers of this sort can help to assess the exact nature of the social deficits that may be experienced by these kids, which in turn may allow us to design better and more targeted interventions.

A playmate named Sam, a talking dog named Buddy, and an Israeli street leading to a toy store all have starring roles in a new generation of virtual reality games designed to teach basic safety and social skills to kids diagnosed with Aspergers and HFA.

Skills that are often taken for granted can be torturously difficult or school-aged kids on the spectrum (e.g., classroom manners, navigating the social norms of group playtime, etc.), but with a virtual reality learning experience, “practicing” for multiple real-life situations that occur in the real-world is finally possible.

Here are our top 5 picks for virtual reality headsets:

Pansonite Vr Headset with Remote Controller[New Version], 3D Glasses Virtual Reality Headset for VR Games & 3D Movies, Eye Care System for iPhone and Android Smartphones

Oculus Go Standalone Virtual Reality Headset - 32GB

VR Headset for iPhone & Android Phone - Universal Virtual Reality Goggles Ver2.0 - Play Your Best Mobile Games 360 Movies With Soft & Comfortable New 3D VR Glasses | + Adjustable Eye Protection System

VR Headset - Virtual Reality Goggles by VR WEAR 3D VR Glasses for iPhone 6/7/8/Plus/X & S6/S7/S8/S9/Plus/Note and Other Android Smartphones with 4.5-6.5" Screens + 2 Stickers

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.


Is My Autistic Child "High-Functioning"?


We have a 12 yr old son who is not in our primary care, as he lives with his mother and we see him only every other weekend. He was diagnosed with very mild autism, and is very high functioning, i.e. he is not on an EAP getting B's and C's, and although a bit socially challenged does OK with his peers.

Unfortunately he is not being challenged to become more independent, and it would appear as if his mother is trying to hold him back, i.e. he is forced to be in daycare after school with 5 - 10 yr olds, and desperately wants the chance to spread his wings and try an hour after school on his own (with a safety plan, and he has taken and passed the babysitters course). Are there any suggestions on how we go about determining if he can be challenged with more responsibility, i.e. is there a checklist of demonstrated behaviours etc?


The following lists can help parents, teachers and other caretakers to determine if the child is truly on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Note: It is not expected that any high-functioning child will show all the traits listed in any section.

General intellectual ability—

• asks many questions of a provocative nature
• displays a great curiosity about objects, situations or events
• displays a willingness to accept complexity
• has a high energy level
• has a liking for structure, order and consistency
• has a power of abstraction, conceptualization and synthesis
• has a power of concentration, an intense attention that excludes all else
• has a wide range of interests
• has an interest in cause-effect relations
• has avid interest in science or literature
• has the capacity to look into things and be puzzled
• has the capacity to use knowledge and information other than to memories
• is a good guesser
• is an avid reader
• is an entrepreneur - readily makes money on various projects or activities
• is creative in new ideas, seeing associations, pursuing innovations
• is friendly and outgoing
• is independent
• is involved with many exploratory type activities
• is perceptually open to his or her environment
• is persistent
• is resourceful - solving problems by ingenious methods
• is secure emotionally
• is venturesome, wanting to do new things
• learns rapidly, easily and efficiently
• makes good grades in most subjects
• needs little outside control - applies self discipline
• provides very alert, rapid answers to questions
• retains and uses information which has been heard or read
• reveals originality in oral and written expression
• shows superior judgment in evaluating things
• tends to dominate peers or situations
• uses a large number of words easily and accurately
• uses a lot of commonsense

Specific academic aptitude—

• has a long attention span in areas of interest
• is able to extend learning from these key areas to various situations somewhat unrelated in orientation
• is able to judge own and others' relative abilities in key areas of interest
• is able to show broad perspective on one or more subject areas
• learns rapidly, easily and with less repetition in one or a few specific areas (probably not all subject areas)
• likes or loves one or a few areas of knowledge
• likes to study some subjects more than others
• seeks assistance of others beyond his or age peers in extending knowledge in areas of interest
• shows similar characteristics to general intellectual ability but concentrated around one or a few fields
• spends time voluntarily beyond ordinary assignments on projects of interest to him or her

Creative thinking and production—

• acts spontaneously, intuitively
• always trying to adapt or improve things
• asks provocative questions, challenges parents, teachers, written and other authorities
• can show intense concentration on a task
• can show unusual degrees of originality, concentration and persistent hard work on projects that capture their interest and imagination
• displays energy, sometimes disruptively
• doesn't accept authoritarian pronouncements without own judgment
• doesn't mind being different
• has a keen sense of humor, seeing humor in situations others don't
• is bored with memorization and recitation
• is considered, and perhaps resented, by some peers as "crazy"
• is flexible in thinking patterns
• is fluent in producing and elaborating on ideas
• is intellectually playful, interested in fantasy, imagination
• is uninhibited in expression, sometimes radical
• juggles or redefines elements of a problem or task
• makes unusual associations between remote ideas
• produces unexpected, sometimes "silly" responses
• provides multiple solutions or responses to problems
• readily guesses and makes hypotheses
• retains own ideas in a discussion or collaboration
• senses inconsistencies and discontinuities
• senses when problems exist
• tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty


• can adopt non-leadership roles within a group
• can articulate ideas clearly
• can coordinate the work of several individuals
• can establish the mood of a group
• can give directions clearly and effectively
• can listen to others empathetically
• can stimulate and arouse others
• exercises authority reliably and responsibly
• interacts with others easily showing social skills
• is looked to by others when something must be decided
• is often asked for ideas and suggestions
• organizes others
• recognizes and can articulate the goals of a group
• recognizes skills and abilities possessed by others
• supports others in a group when appropriate
• understands how people feel and how groups function

Psychomotor ability—

• demonstrates endurance, stamina and persistence in physical activities
• demonstrates prowess in physical activities common amongst age peers
• has a suitable body build
• is able to understand the intellectual aspects of psychomotor activities
• is athletic
• is coordinated, balanced and confident in physical activities
• is energetic
• is inventive in constructing or modifying games
• is rhythmic
• likes to play physically

Visual and performing arts—


• discriminates musical and other sounds well
• enjoys dance and dramatic activities with musical elements
• enjoys musical activities and demonstrates musical feeling
• has good sense of rhythm
• is well-coordinated
• makes up original tunes
• responds readily to rhythm, melody and harmony
• shows tonal memory
• understands musical relationships
• uses music to express feeling or experience


• brings a dramatic situation to a climax with a well-timed ending when telling a story
• communicates feelings by means of facial expressions, gestures and bodily movements
• demonstrates ability to dramatize feelings and experiences
• demonstrates interest and enjoyment in dramatic activities
• demonstrates understanding of conflict when acting out a dramatic event
• enjoys evoking emotional responses from listeners
• readily shifts into role of another character, animal or object
• uses voice to reflect changes in mood


• draws a variety of objects
• is interested in other people's art, both appreciating it and criticizing it
• is willing to try out new materials and experiences
• likes to model three dimensionally with clay, soap carving, etc.
• pursues art in spare time
• puts depth into drawing, showing planning and good proportion
• shows originality in modes of undertaking art
• treats art seriously and enjoys it
• uses art to express feelings and experiences

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.



Helping Your Older HFA Teen to Find Work


How can I get my 19-year-old son [with high functioning autism] to stop playing video games long enough to go find a job? I try to tell him that he needs to be working at least part-time at this age – but he’s not interested. (*sigh*)


Looking for a job is difficult for any teenager new to the job market, especially when high unemployment allows extreme selectivity among job applicants. But with HFA, the difficulty level goes up yet another notch. Chances are strong that your child will face this challenge.

How can you make your home a supportive place for job hunting? Here are some ideas:

1. Be a good listener. Let him express his feelings of frustration, anger, and nervousness about seeking employment.

2. Be aware of community resources. Know the applicable civil rights laws. Consider government programs such as vocational rehabilitation and job service. If you know of other parents whose children are job hunting, you may want to form a support group for yourselves and/or your children.

3. Grooming is important. Teens with autism are often unaware of stains on their clothing, sloppy hair, or dirt on their hands. It helps if someone looks them over before an interview.

4. Help him to organize himself. Many – if not most – HFA teens do not know how to look for work. There are many books about job-hunting, each with a slightly different approach. Together, you might decide on a plan of action. Or help might be needed with the fine points of planning and scheduling. You could remind him of necessary follow-up telephone calls or letters. 

5. Help with writing if necessary. Teens on the spectrum tend not to have the best hand-writing skills. It might be helpful if the parent types or hand-writes job applications since sloppy handwriting and misspellings tend to disturb employers. If the employer uses online job kiosks (a new barrier for people with reading and writing difficulty), you may have to sit with him and key in the words of the application. Also, help with transportation, if necessary.

6. Insist your child actively look for work. Do not let him spend extensive time playing games, watching TV, reading, etc. If necessary, tell him that looking for work is a full-time job, which he must do in order to earn your financial support. Help him by not overloading him with chores during working hours on the weekdays when employers are in. Help him overcome his failures, but do not accept lack of effort.

7. Use your social network to help your child find work. Talk to your friends, co-workers, and other parents of autistic children. Tell them about your child. Stress your child’s positive qualities and describe him as a capable worker. Don’t spend a lot of time describing his disorder. Ask him to follow up any leads that you discover.

8. Social skills are important to job success. Help your child to understand the point of view of co-workers and to adjust to the many hidden rules of the organization.

9. As he looks for employment, emphasize his actions and behavior, rather than the results. If he is actively seeking work, he deserves your respect and praise, even if he does not succeed in finding work. For example, praise your child if he does a good job of describing his qualifications at an interview, even if he is not selected for the opening.

10. Finding a job is only half the battle. Your child will have to work hard in order to keep that job. Be sure your child gets a complete job description and check for problem areas. If your child might have difficulty with any task because of his disorder, he may want to consider trading that task with a co-worker in return for a task that he can do.

Autistic teens work in every conceivable job – salesperson, optometrist, pilot, doctor, psychologist, computer programmer, janitor, and waiter. Pay attention to your child’s abilities. Teach him to feel pride in his achievements. And support him as he hunts for a job. With your help and your clear belief that your child can succeed, he can “make it.” 

Good luck!

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content