New technology uses avatar role play to help children overcome social anxiety disorders. From The University of Central Florida Anxiety Disorders and Virtually Better, a company that aims to use virtual reality to treat mental illness, this software allows children to get comfortable in a stimulated social environment.
Aimed at children ages 8-12, the software stimulates a school environment, which is the place that tends to cause the most angst for children of that age. Children sit at a computer station and are asked to navigate social interactions of varying difficulty while physicians in another room control six avatars: a principal, gym teacher, classroom teacher, mean boy, popular girl, and smart girl. Practicing social communication allows the children to get more comfortable interacting with their peers.
This software will be tested at a 12-week trial study taking place in Central Florida this summer, which will be followed by a longer one if the first yields successful results. Researchers hope to expand the features in this software and make it available to clinicians in the future, making it an available and effective therapeutic tool.
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