New VR software empowers children with autism at home or in therapy

Gary Jesch


Imagine the challenges faced by a child or adult with autism who shares the same desires you have, to be a better version of yourself, to thrive and to reach your potential. Perhaps you know a person who faces such challenges. Perhaps you are a parent who is faced with adjusting your expectations and becoming a caregiver in the most extreme sense. What cutting edge technology can help you and your child with autism, both immediately and long-term?

Invirtua’s virtual reality software creates a computer-generated “digital puppet” in a 3D environment, an animated character that can be brought to life in real time by either the therapist, the parent or the person with autism, so that it can interact and express itself with emotions, personality and body language. These so-called “avatars” are created by our artists and range from talking fish to cartoon characters to look-alikes of your children, developed from photographs.

As a parent, you can use Invirtua’s software with your children at home, where they are safe from outside influences and not connected to the Internet. You can use some of our suggestions to assist in the learning process or you and your therapists can freely design sessions your children seem to enjoy most. As you engage and play with your children, the time you spend together helps produce strong connections and rewarding experiences.

Invirtua goes beyond the rigidity and repetition of ABA therapies by tapping into the affinity that many children (and even adults) on the autism spectrum have with Disney cartoons, video characters and avatars. It gives them an experience they’ve never had before, talking with a character on a screen and having it talk back. They quickly learn that they can be either in the audience or the puppeteer, and you can easily trade roles with them to provide story, variety and the creative tension that makes them want to play with it again and again.

The advanced version of Invirtua’s software will include support for VR headsets, wearable devices, brain-controlled interfaces, eye and gesture tracking. It will come with lessons in the form of simulated real-life scenarios that are often difficult for those with autism and phobias. The Invirtua website will provide rich course content and will be integrated with ABPathfinders’ Therapy Management System, a data-collection software now in use for autism therapy.

Currently, it’s provided on a mini-computer with pen-tablet and joystick controls and connects to a household TV screen, where our high-quality avatars appear with automatic lip sync and real time animation, on video or 3D backgrounds.

We know we aren’t going to make ABA therapy methods obsolete anytime soon. We believe that, right now, we can help parents and therapists go beyond (or in sync with) ABA to get even better results for a wider range of people with autism, through the use of live animation and virtual reality technologies. The science so far looks promising and the results from our pilot programs have excited therapists and parents.

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