Virtual Reality May Soon Help Autistic Children in Classrooms

A school classroom is a second home to most students, a familiar environment where the worlds of academic and social mix to provide a well-rounded learning environment. But for a child with autism, the classroom can be a stressful place filled with busyness and performance pressures that can make it difficult for them to learn.

But things may soon become easier for these students. Researchers now believe that virtual reality can aid autistic children in the classroom.

Virtual reality is being examined as a possible teaching aid for this setting because it can provide a way for those with autism to cope and manage being in stressful situations. It can also aid in breaking down the barriers of perception and social challenges that prevent them from learning. This would work well because virtual environments have a consistency and predictability that the real world does not provide.

When taking in the experiences of the everyday world, the challenge that autistic people face is that their brains struggle to block out external stimuli; internally, this results in sensory overload. In social situations, this can resemble or materialize as anxiety or panic attacks in crowded or loud situations. The demands of the school classroom can also recreate such stresses.

By using a device called the Oculus Rift, Dr. Nigel Newbutt is helping autistic children make advances in the classroom. The device includes 3D high resolution video as well as audio and tracking technology. The combination of these elements creates an experience that can engross users in a completely virtual world.

“If used appropriately,” Dr. Newbutt told The Independent Online, “virtual reality can provide portals into a neurotypical world, and suggest ways to help navigate this world.”

When Dr. Newbutt and his research team at Michigan State University examined how virtual reality can help the autistic community, they zeroed in on the user’s physical experiences and how VR could assist them in relating to real life scenarios. Dr. Newbutt says the good thing about a virtual reality classroom is that it is predictable and the reaction to the players would always involve consistency. But he also shared a challenging aspect to using this technology for those with autism spectrum disorder.

“[More research must be done to uncover where there] is a risk of stay in…immersing in virtual reality without any bridging of awareness and skill to the real world,” says Dr. Newbutt.

The human avatars in virtual worlds accessed by VR devices like the Oculus Rift are a benefit for those with autism because they have less unpredictable physical movements and use simplified facial expressions and body language. This is a great help to the autistic community because they are then less apt to misread someone or their intentions.

The possibility of using virtual reality in future classroom settings could provide a flexible and affordable support system for autistic people in controlled academic or learning environments. It can also help them navigate bigger and more complex situations in the outside world like traffic, subway stations, and music and sporting events. Ultimately, VR could support the autistic community in making choices that can make their lives more manageable and enjoyable.

Dr. Newbutt says this about the goal of his VR training sessions: “Their real potential is for those on the autistic spectrum to gain enough understanding of the neurotypical world to be able to choose what to take on in their pursuit of self-sufficiency and happiness. We are gradually shifting perspectives from deficits to strengths.”

The Big Three struggle

After comfortable wins on the opening day of the season Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting struggled in round two of the Primeira Liga schedule.

All three were made to work hard for their 1-0 victories. FC Porto beat Tondela thanks to a first-half goal from the rejuvenated Vincent Aboubakar, who scored twelve times in twenty-seven outings whilst on-loan at Turkish outfit Besiktas last season.

Sporting left it late against Vitoria de Setúbal, needing a penalty, five minutes from time, committed against and converted by Bas Dost.

Benfica left it even later, with impressive new centre-forward Haris Seferovic scoring a stoppage time goal, his second in two games, to unlock a spirited GD Chaves defence.

Portimonense, after their opening day win against Boavista, faced a difficult trip to SC Braga.
The visitors matched their hosts in all departments and thoroughly deserved their 1-0 lead thanks to a Paulinho goal midway through the first-half.

On the stroke of half-time Bruno Xadas collected the ball on the edge of the Portimonense penalty area before unleashing an unstoppable 20-yard left-footed effort that rocketed into the net with goalkeeper Ricardo Ferreira rooted to the spot.

The 19-year-old Bruno Xadas scored eleven goals in thirty matches from midfield for Braga B last season, earning him the chance to make his debut for the senior team at the tail end of the season and a call-up to Portugal’s U20 World Cup squad, where he outshone all his team mates, especially when scoring a brace against hosts South Korea.
The home side improved after the interval and Rui Fonte grabbed the winner in the sixty-eighth minute.

SC Portimonense have made an encouraging start to the season but the club needs to address the issue of ticket sales with long queues in evidence for their opening game.

With an attendance of under 3,000 and apparently only one box office open, many fans gave up and watched the game on TV in the local bars.

Good Idea for Waste Plastic Bottles

Sealing a Bag with waste Plastic Bottles?

This was passed on by one of our readers… Wow, what a fantastic idea!
How to seal a bag and make it air-tight, for Free.

No more need to grapple with rubber bands, spring clips or twist ties, when sealing plastic bags.

Here in Portugal, like many hot countries, we all use lots of water bottles, especially in the hot summer months. This is a great idea to re-use them rather than recycling or throwing them away. Not only does it get rid of the bottle is gives you a brilliant water-tight bag sealer.

So if you are bagging up all your summer garden produce ready to freeze for the winter or bagging any sort of stewed fruit then this is a great eco idea.

Cut up a disposable water bottle and keep the neck and top, as shown in the left photo.

Push the open end of the plastic bag through the cut-off bottle neck, then open out the bag top so that it goes over the bottle kneck.

Then screw the bottle top over to seal it. The bottle is made to be air-tight, so that water will not leak, the secret lies with the top and screw!

Video Games May Help People Deal With Depression

Playing video games can be a treatment for depression, a new study says. In young adults who suffer from mild depression, playing these “brain training” games gave them a feeling of power over their feelings of depression.

By increasing the time participants spent playing video games, this recent study was able to study the effects of brain training games in higher volume. The findings are soon to be published in Computers in Human Behavior in the June 2017 issue.

The study from University of California, Davis brought together 160 student volunteers of different ethnicities and genders who reported suffering from mild depression. The average age of the participants was 21 years old. These students played specially designed video and brain training games to help relieve their depression. Importantly, the video games were accompanied by messages to inspire the players, and these messages were the main point of study in this research project.

“Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts…mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” said the authors of the paper, Subuhi Khan and Jorge Pena. Khan and Pena are professors in the Department of Communication at UC Davis.

These messages targeted both internal and external sources of depression and were displayed based on the choices of the players in the games. Every message ended with the same sentence: “Just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort.”

Each game lasted three minutes, with six games played in total. The games were all designed specifically to help the players feel some sense of empowerment over their depression. For the participants who expressed depression from internal sources, the games gave the players a feeling of control. The games, as previously found in research, showed potential to create cognitive changes.

For the participants who expressed depression as coming from external sources, such as work or relationships, the amount of time spent playing the games increased. However, according to researchers, this is not likely to have the same long-term effects as the internal depression cognitive changes.

Each participant was sent gentle reminders to prompt them to play the games, and these reminders caused them to play the games more. These reminders were based on a variety of inspirational quotes and phrases, although each one was different and unique.

These brain games show much promise not just in treating the symptoms of depression, but in actually creating a shift in the cognitive function in the brain. Further research is soon to be done on how to optimize these games for those suffering from depression and many other mental disorders.