For children with autism, social experiences like morning music in school can be overwhelming. Thanks to a new VR program, these children can now practice moving to music and even playing with the realistic orchestra, although only the child and a support person will be present.
Cirkus Summarum in 360 degree video
The Cirkus Summarum concert hall is a lively and exciting place. All the stars from Ramasjang are there, and DR Big Band plays at full blast. For some children it would be a dream to see the show or play with them, but for others it would be closer to a nightmare. For some children, it can help to practice with real people in a real environment, but for others a different approach is necessary as the real world can be too overwhelming. Two graduate students from Medialogy at AAU CPH developed a VR program for exactly this.
In the virtual world of the program, the child participates in a true Cirkus Summarum concert, which is recorded in DR Koncerthuset. A full production of 360 degree video is recorded, with interactive audio and surround sound, and with the participation of DR Big Band and the TV characters from Cirkus Summarum.
- The child really gets the feeling of being present and being an active participant. It is a very realistic experience where the child can dance or play at the concert using 3D instruments like maracas, tambourines or the triangle, says Lars Koreska Andersen, who together with Nicklas Bundgaard Andersen is behind the project.
The VR program is designed so that two people can play at the same time, for example a teacher and a child, and the virtual instruments can actually be connected to real instruments, so the experience is even more realistic.
An exciting format with lots of potential
The VR program has been developed and tested in collaboration with teachers and children at special schools and with psychologists from the Cool Kids clinic that helps children with anxiety.
- I think there is a great potential in it. And I think it's good that you are involving a clinic that works with the practical, everyday side of things, and we can also contribute something to the university. So, research and practice can merge, says psychologist, Søren Benedikt Pedersen.
DR's Planning Director Flemming Bo Nielsen, was very positive when he was presented with the idea of creating a realistic VR version of the Cirkus Summarum concert. He could immediately see that the mission to support children with special challenges was noble, but also very exciting:
- As a media facilitator, we are constantly curious about new formats and new opportunities for distribution, constantly researching value. I think it has been a really nice project, says Flemming Bo Nielsen.
The supervisors of the project, Professor Stefania Serafin and PhD fellow Ali Adjorlu, are currently investigating the possibility to expand with more productions, which both DR and Cool Kids are interested in. The project is also part of a major research project that explores how virtual reality can be used when children with autism need to practice events from everyday life like taking the bus or going to the supermarket.
- Social interaction. What the prototype primarily explores are the social interactions between people. The idea is that instead of using a pre-defined program, AI or video, it is a human being who provides the social counterpart. It gives a more authentic and real experience, which ultimately provides a better simulation of the exposure.
- Motivational tool. With VR, there is the opportunity to 'gamble' the experience, which for young people and children can be a motivating and strengthening accomplishment. New technology (as VR is for most) can also have a motivating effect, and on bad days when the child cannot get to the clinic, there is the possibility to use it in the home environment.
- Reduction of costs. The treatment of anxiety occurs with the aid of exposure therapy. Here, VR can help reduce costs by exposing the child to conditions related to the diagnosed anxiety. For example, for anxiety with travel by bus or air, there is no cost of purchasing tickets, as the exposure in VR can be from the sofa or the clinic.