Virtual reality treatment for autism

FRESNO, Calif.

Barry Thomas loves playing on the computer, but Barry has autism and has trouble with social interaction.

"Barry still doesn't really enjoy eye contact. He's still not very comfortable," Barry's Mother, Annie Thomas said.

Autism impacts an area of the brain responsible for social interaction and communication skills making it difficult to relate to others.

"They cannot recognize the facial expressions of other people," Professor Nilanjan Sarkar, Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University said.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University are developing a virtual reality computer program they hope will help.

"They showed us a face and situation and I basically had to guess the emotion," Barry Thomas said.

Doctors can create characters that show certain emotions and situations and then monitor where the patient is having difficulty with recognizing that emotional expression.

"We want to measure the child's reaction to these things, how do you measure through child's ideas, and their body's signals; physiological signals," Professor Nilanjan Sarkar explained.

The hope is to help children and adults with autism learn emotion by improving eye contact and social engagement. Barry's social interaction is improving, which will help him focus on his dream of being a computer programmer.

For more information about participating in this study you can go to:


Craig Boerner, Media Director

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

(615) 322-4747

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