NHS offers ‘Blue Room’ VR treatment to help children with autism overcome fears

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The Blue Room, an immersive virtual reality service which helps children with autism overcome their fears, is being offered on the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK after research from Newcastle University.

In 2014, the university team reported that eight out of 10 children who received Blue Room treatment were able to tackle their fears and some had completely overcome their phobias, even after a year later. The immersive reality treatment is available at NHS, where there is funding by the children’s Clinical Commissioning Group, and each child referred will receive four sessions at the facility in County Durham, England.

The Newcastle team works with software company Third Eye Technologies to develop personalised scenarios for Blue Room. The child is accompanied by a psychiatrist in a 360-degree screened room which displays audio visual images representing the real world. The child has no point of external reference. Blue Room does not use a headset or goggles, which are found distressing by children with autism.

The children move around the scene by controlling their movements with an iPad, while interacting and navigating through the scenario. The iPad provides full control of the environment to the children. With the help of the psychologist, children are given breathing and relaxation exercises in the controllable and safe virtual environment to help them to learn to cope with that situation.

To examine the long-term effectiveness of the treatment, a larger-scale clinical study is being carried out with the results due later in 2017. In the initial study the effects were still felt by children one year after treatment. The treatment is being offered through the NHS England Commissioned Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorders Service (CNDS), whose remit includes research to develop new treatments and interventions and evaluate their use in the NHS.

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