(From left) Professor Ip,
Dr Chan and Dr Wong demonstrate how to use vPAD for learning.
A virtual reality (VR) based training programme developed by
a multi-disciplinary team led by City University of Hong
Kong (CityU) enhances the social adaption and
emotional skills for school-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD),
according to a recent study.
The pioneering VR based training programme for social
adaptive and emotional training (vPAD), helps children with ASD to respond
appropriately and adapt to a range of different social environments.
An assessment involving 125 children diagnosed with ASD
showed that those who have received vPAD training scored higher on social
interaction and emotion expression, and showed improvement in emotion
The children, from 17 local schools in Hong Kong and aged
between 6 and 12, were divided into two groups. One was treated as a control group
and the other received vPAD training. Results showed that there was a
statistically significant difference in the assessment scores between the
training and the control groups on affective expression and social interaction.
Upon in-class observation, children from the training group showed
significant improvements in related activities and were able to reflect their
understanding through interaction with classmates. The children were able to
take note of changes in their classmates’ facial expression and understand
In addition, they were more able to express their emotions
appropriately, initiate social contact such as greetings, and sustain
The project, funded by the Government’s Quality Education
Fund, was led by Professor Horace Ip
Ho-shing, Vice-President (Student Affairs) and Director of the Centre for
Innovative Applications of Internet and Multimedia Technologies (AIMtech
Centre) at CityU.
The project team includes medical and educational experts, and
they are, respectively, Dr Dorothy Chan Fung-ying, Honorary
Clinical Associate Professor from the Department of Paediatrics at the Faculty
of Medicine of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Dr Simpson Wong Wai-lap,
Assistant Professor from the Department of Psychology at The Education
University of Hong Kong.
Professor Ip said that deficits in social-emotional
reciprocity, which is one of the diagnostic criteria of ASD, severely hindered
children with ASD from responding appropriately and adapting to different social
In response to this problem, the team has designed six
unique learning scenarios for school-age students with ASD. These immersive
learning scenarios were enabled by multi-projection VR technologies that
provided an authentic, immersive, situated, safe and controllable educational
One scenario focuses on relaxation strategies, four simulate
social situations, and one facilitates consolidation and generalisation. The
scenarios have been designed and developed together with the corresponding
psychoeducation procedures and training programmes.
“We hope that through the VR training programme, autistic
pupils can learn social communication and social interaction skills across different
contexts, and transfer the skills they have learned to their classrooms,” said
vPAD has been developed using AIMtech Centre’s vast experience and
innovations in virtual reality technologies with applications in creative arts,
education, and psychotherapy.
Examples of AIMtech Centre’s innovations in virtual reality include
Smart Ambience Therapy (SAT), a virtual environment for psychotherapy involving
physically and/or psychologically abused children; Smart Ambience for Affective
Learning (SAMAL), a smart classroom for affective learning; and Interactive
Sensory Programme for Affective Learning (InSPAL), a VR-enabled learning
environment and training programme designed specifically for the learning needs
of students with severe intellectual disabilities (SID).
The vPAD team and Mr Duffy Wong Chun-nam, Chairman of the
Quality Education Fund Steering Committee (second from left).
school representative (centre) and a parent (right) share the effectiveness of
the vPAD programme.