Virtual Reality and Speech Therapy

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Here’s my new favorite tool to use in speech therapy: Virtual reality (VR) headsets. Yup. In speech therapy.

Virtual reality is a term you’ve probably heard before. Just to be clear this isn’t the type of VR that you’d see in a The Matrix. What we are working with isn’t going to make you feel like you Neo.

I’m talking about 360 degree VR videos. These videos allow you to turn your device (i.e. phone, tablet, etc.) in order to explore the computerized environment more fully. Here’s a great example from The National Autistic Society’s YouTube page that allows you to see the world through the eyes of a child with autism. A fair warning, this is a pretty stimulating video with lots of odd noises and flashing lights. I wouldn’t recommend it if you or your client happen to be prone to strobe induced seizures. Also, this video is going to look odd if you’re just at your computer, so view it on your phone or tablet. And make sure to move the screen up, down, left, and right because that’s what makes it awesome.

In case that’s not up your alley, here’s a few more videos to check out:

The live action Jungle Book.

Mega Rollercoaster.

Walking in a tiger cage.

What you’ll need to start:

  1. A VR Headset: There are a ton to choose from. I’ve tried Google Cardboard and the Topmaxions 3D VR Headset. I like Google Cardboard, but was nervous that my phone would slide out of the sides of it (which it eventually did). A little bit of tape was a good temporary fix, but that’s not really a great answer. Also, these headsets are harder to clean off between kiddos because they are, well, made of cardboard. On the plus side, I like how the strap comes off so that you can hold it in your hand. The strap could easily annoy some of kiddos we work with. Also, this one is smaller and secures to a child’s head fairly well. Another option,  Topmaxions 3D VR Headset,  encases your phone and is much more secure. However, I imagine that kids will find it a little intimidating. It’s also a little bulky and hangs loosely on kids with smaller (kid sized) heads. These are also super easy to clean, because they are mostly plastic. The good news is that both headsets are about $20.00, so they won’t break the bank. And just because I think this tech is cool, here’s an Amazon link for VR Headsets.
  2. A phone: Right now, I’m using my iPhone 6, which seems to work really well. Under the descriptions of each of the above VR headsets, it should tell you which phones are compatible, so find one that fits your phone.
  3. Headphones/earbuds: These are optional and really depend on the kid. Some kids may not tolerate headphones, but it does make the experience more immersive.  Obviously, if you’re going to be using audio and want the kids to wear headphones, don’t do earbuds, for hygiene reasons, unless the kid brings them from home. Here are some headphones that limit the volume of the videos for you, so things won’t get eardrum-busting-loud for your kid.
  4. Apps or YouTube: So, what do we watch? There are tons of videos on YouTube that you can use (see above), but be careful and always screen for content before just picking a video. I recommend finding some, watching them yourself, and adding them to a playlist that you can access later. As far as apps go, there are lots of free ones, but as is often the case with apps, not all of them are quality. The one app I am enjoying the most right now is Discovery VR. Within this app, there are lots of short videos, that take you underwater, on a rollercoaster, or even to a drum circle. So far, all the ones I’ve watched are kid friendly. Google Cardboard has an app, but it’s limited and mostly just directs you to other apps. Google Street View has a Cardboard option that’s pretty fun and allows to you explore areas in your community if people have made 3D pictures of the desired place. With Google Street there is no sound, so it’s not quite as over stimulating or immersive, depending on what you’re looking for.

 

That’s all you need to begin. Of course you can get as deep in to this as you want. There are very expensive headsets, and even remotes that can help you navigate through some of the VR worlds, but that’s not necessary to start. When you get things up and running have your kids describe what they see. Are things moving fast or slow? Are you high up off the ground or way down deep in the ocean? What do you think the lion feels like based on what he looks like? The questions really are endless. VR can open up entire new worlds for some of these kids.

So tell me, have you tried VR yet with your kids at work? If so, how’d it go? Please share your ideas and comments with the rest of us. I’d also love to hear from OTs and PTs who have used this tech.

DISCLAIMER: You probably know this, but check with your families before using VR. Some families have very strict rules about screen time and content. Also, make sure the kid you’re working with is not prone to seizures. I have not read of this tech inducing them, but rather be safe than sorry.

 

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