Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Teen Second Life

Second Life is a virtual reality game that creates an online community. Its creater has made a teen version for kids ages 13-17. A research associate at Harvard Medical School named John Lester has created an island within the community called Brigadoon for people with Asperger's Syndrome and their caregivers. It's a place where kids with Asperger's can practice their social skills. Here's an excerpt from an ABC News report:

"The main problem with Asperger's is a lack of, I guess you could call it, innate socialization skills," he explained. "Things that come instinctively to people without Asperger's, like how to walk into a room and have a conversation with people, how to feel comfortable in groups working together on projects — all of that is not instinctive to people with Asperger's."
Lester explains that although people suffering from Asperger's can learn these skills, it requires practice. Brigadoon was created for just that purpose.
"Some people in Brigadoon have done things like build little homes and little gardens where they have people over," he said, "they just sit around and talk about their struggles and their issues dealing with Asperger's on a daily basis."
Not dissimilar from work being done with virtual reality to treat phobias, Brigadoon offers a controlled environment where patients feel comfortable and can learn at their own pace.
"It's been shown that virtual reality environments help people with specific types of phobias and because it's a simulation it's less fearful for people," said Lester. "But at the same time it is close enough to reality so that the benefits gained from using these virtual environments will spill over into the real world."

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