Dublin school uses VR to help kids with autism learn life skills

12 Dec 2022

A student in Setanta School learning skills through a VR headset. Image: Setanta School

Setanta School said the VR platform was ‘very appealing’ for students, providing them with an interactive way to pick up new skills.

A Dublin school is using virtual reality (VR) to help teach life skills to neurodiverse children.

Setanta School – a school for children on the autism spectrum – is working with US tech company Floreo to bring a VR platform to students.

This platform is designed to teach social, behavioural, communication and life skills for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, anxiety and other neurodiverse conditions.

Floreo’s system requires an iPhone 7 or later model, a VR headset and a tablet device for the parent, teacher or coach to monitor and interact with the child.

The child wears the headset and navigates the VR lesson, which can cover a wide range of simulated situations such as going to the supermarket, the zoo or learning to cross a busy street.

The school’s deputy principle Fiona O’Donovan said the platform is a “very appealing method of learning” for students.

“The world as we know it can be very overwhelming for our students and many of them find it difficult to cope in the real world,” O’Donovan added.

“Unpredictable or unfamiliar environments can be distressing for them, things the rest of us take for granted. The VR environment creates engaging, fun and interactive lessons for our students. In turn, this not only makes our world more accessible for our students but also their families.”

Setanta School is the first school in Ireland to pilot Floreo’s autism learning tech for students. The US company works with game developers to create evidence-based lessons, with the aim of helping neurodiverse students learn skills they can translate to real life.

O’Donovan noted that “cost is always an issue” for a public school and financial support would be needed to be able to embed the programme into the school curriculum. A three-month subscription, combined with the necessary hardware, cost Setanta €5,000.

“The licences are approximately €50 per licence, and the cost of the VR headsets and iPads/iPhones is a huge investment for us,” she added. “We believed so much in giving the software a chance that we redirected funds from our yard project to facilitate the purchase of the required equipment.”

Floreo said it is running several research studies, including a study in collaboration with the Centre for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the US National Institute of Health. The company plans to extend its research to include European groups.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic