Beleef(d) Autisme

Put yourself in the shoes of an autistic student


Oculus Rift S

The GIPS Spelen & Leren (Play & Learn) Foundation aims to promote the integration of disabled people into society. GIPS lets children and professionals experience the limitations that come along with a disability.

GIPS S&L is working on extending their training offerings with a package for instructing teachers in primary school in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A key aspect of how GIPS works is that GIPS wants people to fundamentally experience the limitations that they are being instructed about. This raises awareness and increases understanding.

Teach the teacher

The VR simulation is called Beleef(d) Autisme which loosely translate to Experience Autism, though the finer details of the Dutch name cannot be easily translated. The initial target audience for the simulation are primary school teachers who increasingly will have to work with children with ASD. In The Netherlands children with ASD are educated in the regular school system which prepares them well for further education and society. Teachers will have to know how these children may react to situations which are perfectly normal to people without ASD. And instead of just telling the teachers what they can do and how they can recognise these situations and the behaviours of the children with ASD, they are put in their shoes. They get to experience, to some level, what it is like to have ASD and be in a crowded classroom with a teacher that may not understand ASD properly.

Proof of Concept

The first version of Beleef(d) Autisme has been developed as a proof of concept, only implementing a small part of a full-blown simulation and only focusing on some aspects of Autism. GIPS and VR Lab wanted to test whether Virtual Reality can be used as intended and provides the added value that is envisioned. To this extent approximately 200 people, most of them primary school teachers, have been given the opportunity to experience the VR simulation. And the reactions where overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there is a lof of added value. Yes, they sure would like to take the final training. And people with autism felt that this simulation really showed what it is like for children with autism to be in a classroom.

As the proof of concept has been received so positively, the plan is now to develop a complete version of the VR simulation in the second half of 2020. At the same time the training program, based on the simulation, will be developed. Tentatively roll-out should be able to start towards the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. While the initial focus is on primary schools, further school levels will be addressed as well.

Why VR and VR Lab?

Virtual Reality offers unprecedented possibilities to simulate situations. Various “tricks” can be used to attract attention, distract attention, distort audio and visual inputs etc. All needed for a simulation such as this one. The whole challenge being whether it is enough to let the user of the simulation really experience what it is like to be in the class as an autistic child. The results of the proof of concept showed that VR can even achieve this (to some level).

Contacts between VR Lab and GIPS go back to the the year before VR Lab got established. At that time, the people behind VR Lab were already advising GIPS about the potential of VR. Together we explored what’s possible and setup this project. The HAN University of Applied Sciences joined the project to provide further scientific input. Various experts and organisations on autism were consulted throughout the project.

The proof of concept was funded by the StITPro Foundation.

More information about Beleef(d) Autisme can be found the dutch project website.