Nutley school uses virtual reality to help children with neurodiversity succeed in the real world

Therapists say the goal of the virtual reality headset is to teach students important everyday skills and tasks that they will one day be able to use in the real world.

Amanda Eustice

May 2, 2024, 5:09 PM

Updated 17 days ago

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A special education school in Nutley is using virtual reality in the classroom to help students succeed outside of it.
For 16-year-old Kaito, putting on a virtual reality headset is one of his favorite things to do. He says it helps him experience life in a different way. But he's not putting on the headset just for fun. It's all a part of the curriculum at The Phoenix Center, a school that works with neurodiverse children.
Speech therapists are using the technology as part of a pilot program to expose students to everyday situations and scenarios.
Phoenix Center speech therapist Christine Hartz says, "They work on answering questions: who, what, when, where, why. They also focus on following directions. Many of the activities also work on social skills."
Instruction is simple. Students put on the headset and therapists select an experience inside the Floreo therapy-based learning application to teach social, behavioral or life skills. During this lesson, Kaito was navigating how to get through Transportation Security Administration checks at the airport.
Mali DeSantis, a speech therapist, brought the program to the center. "We work a lot with sequencing, and we can do that in a very good way with the virtual reality and take them through all the tiny steps that need to be done for each of the life skills, activities that are in there,” DeSantis said.
Therapists say the goal of the virtual reality headset is to teach students important everyday skills and tasks that they will one day be able to use in the real world.
"We can bring them out into the community, and they can truly apply it. They can do things in a very controlled way, and they can go and they can recognize the things that they saw in the virtual reality,” DeSantis said.
This gives students like Kaito the tools to take off the headset and succeed.


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