The Future of Autism: Expanding into Virtual Reality

Teaching social communication skills to children with autism using an virtual environment. We are dedicated in supporting their mental-well being.

Dzeneta Mahmutovic | Chadia Archidi
Radboud University Nijmegen
Master student Medical Biology | Graduated student

Over het initiatief / About the initiative

The Future of Autism: Expanding into Virtual Reality

In welke fase zit jouw initiatief? / In what stage is your initiative?


Heb je jouw initiatief al gevalideerd? / Did you validate your initiative?

Currently we are still validating our innovation in the market by speaking with different specialists and also adults who have autism.

Meer informatie over jouw initiatief / More info about your initiative

Globally, 1.5 million children and almost 5.5 million adults are diagnosed with autism. The main hallmark deficit in children with autism is a shortfall in social interactions. Persons diagnosed with autism might have trouble understanding other people’s emotions, recognizing body language, and making eye contact, which are essential for proper communication. Therefore, the social development of a child may be negatively impacted if the recognition of emotions is not acknowledged. They will not be able to understand or even react to people’s emotions.

Children with autism are taught how to recognize emotions through different techniques. The classic approach of teaching through “face-to-face” instructions from the teacher and parent is not very appealing and exciting for children. Using Virtual Reality (VR)-based technologies as part of autism intervention can improve the motivation and adherence of the people in the therapeutic programs. Literature found that playing with a toy can provide an opportunity to develop social and emotional skills, such as empathy, in young children. Therefore, we decided to combine these benefits with the use of VR technology into an application, MICA, to educate children with autism about social skills, such as emotional expressions.

Wat is er anders/nieuw aan jouw idee/oplossing t.o.v. bestaande oplossingen? / What is different/new about your idea/solution compared to existing solutions??

The component that makes our product valuable is that the child can learn social communication skills in their own way. Improving social skills allows for improved peer relationships and communication with others. By this, the child can choose which exercises they want to practice first. We want to give them the flexibility to practice in their own time and pace. The virtual environment will be designed so modernly that it is age-appropriate, interactive, and playful. In this way, the games will be personalized and adjusted to the needs of the child.

Currently, limited online platforms are available for children with Autism to practice their skills online.  With MICA, the child can practice their skills online without the need for the supervision of the parent. Since the games are online they can be played at home without leaving the child’s safe environment. The educational program is designed as modern games which allow the child to engage more in the given tasks and can lead to increased performance.

Our product will consist of a toy and VR software. It will provide lectures about emotional connections in the VR environment to improve their social communication skills. The toy will have two buttons that will act as a controller. The child could then use the two buttons on the toy (‘yes’ and ‘no’) to answer the questions in the environment.

In our environment, the child will practice with particular situations and answer questions. The VR environment will represent for example a school environment. In this environment, the child will play and interpret situations with their peers. The toy is connected to the VR environment through Bluetooth.

Wat zijn jouw volgende stappen om het verder te ontwikkelen? / What are your next steps to develop the initiative?

Currently, we are working on the design of our product within the VR environment. At this moment the key points we need to develop and investigate are the sensors within the toy and the toy combined with the VR environment. In order to develop MICA, we identified several stakeholders.

First, the software needs to be developed for the VR environment by software engineers to create different virtual environments, such as a classroom. In collaboration with autism specialists, the assets for the learning goals and the maximum stimuli need to be determined and integrated into the 3D graphic design, video elements, and voice-over and make the project playable.

After confirmation of a working product, the sensors for the toy can be designed and created by mechanical engineers in collaboration with a toy company. Afterward, the final product needs to be tested for its overall performance, reliability, and safety by data analysts. The prototype will be tested first by different technical laboratories. As soon as it has been proven to work, it should be tested by a group of autism specialists, such as psychologists and medical specialists. Furthermore, to implement MICA, therapists, (specialized) schools, and children with autism need to test the final product.

Wat heb je nodig om (nog meer) impact te maken met dit initiatief? / What do you need to make (more) impact with this initiative?

VR will allow the children to be trained in a realistic environment that can be manipulated and tailored to the characteristics and capabilities of the child (Mesa-Gresa et al., 2018). We currently see several types of possibilities. Future technological advancements could enable an even more personalized approach like tailoring the VR environment to each individual. Enhancements of the VR application itself could allow for automated evaluation of the child’s performance in the VR session and, furthermore, apply automated feedback or suggestion for repetition of the tasks.

Further development of the toy could allow for continuous measurements by the mobile device of, for instance, emotions expressed by the subject during everyday activities. This allows therapists to follow up and analyze the patient during everyday events and would promote more efficient therapy sessions. Furthermore, we strive to create a side program for caregivers or relatives who wish to learn skills on how to communicate with the person having Autism. Additionally, MICA could also be used for children with other neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, etc. Providing different programs for each type of client will grow our customer market and turn our innovation into a larger business.


Mesa-Gresa, P., Gil-Gómez, H., Lozano-Quilis, J. A., & Gil-Gómez, J. A. (2018). Effectiveness of Virtual Reality for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Evidence-Based Systematic Review. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 18(8), 2486.