Avatars: The New Way to Learn Social Skills?
I recently came across this Research Study ongoing here in Orlando at the University of Central Florida. UCF's Anxiety Disorders Clinic has teamed up with Virtually Better, an Atlanta based interactive technology company to develop a computer simulation program that allows children to practice social skills in a safe environment through the use of on screen avatars. The simulation features a realistic school setting and the on screen figures include classmates such as a "cool girl", "smart girl" and a bully as well as a teacher and a principal. The school environment for the program was designed with input from elementary school teachers and the classmates audio responses were recorded by real children so the language reflects real life conversations. Concepts like greetings, giving and receiving compliments, being assertive and answering questions are practiced between the child and the avatar (with a clinician controlling the role/responses of the avatars from another room). For now the study will focus on children ages 8-12 with social anxiety disorders, but I can't help but think that this concept will be expanding in the future to include our kiddos along the spectrum and/or with SPD issues. Like Wii technology now being used in many rehabilitation clinics, will this type of avatar software become mainstream in pediatric treatment protocols? Time will tell! In the meantime, you can check out this and other programs (including one for PTSD for returning Iraq veterans) at Virtually Better. Cool stuff!