The University of Missouri is researching the use of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to assist individuals with neurodiverse conditions, particularly those on the autism spectrum. By involving these individuals in the design process, providing targeted interventions, and fostering understanding, these technologies are opening doors to increased self-confidence, community engagement, and opportunities for success.

Neurodiverse individuals, including those with autism, often face challenges when navigating public spaces and participating in community activities. To address this issue, the University of Missouri is using VR headsets to help autistic individuals use public transportation on college campuses. By creating simulations that imitate real-life situations and incorporating AI-guidance, these virtual experiences aim to enhance participants’ comfort and confidence when using public transportation.

These virtual simulations not only provide practical skills but also act as a safe space for individuals to adjust to potentially overwhelming environments. People with autism often struggle with sensory processing, and certain environments can be overwhelming and cause anxiety. By identifying distracting objects and reducing stimuli in the virtual environment, participants can better prepare themselves for real-world activities. The skills acquired in the virtual realm can then be applied to real-life situations, leading to improved self-confidence and contributions to society.

A crucial aspect of this research involves the active participation of neurodiverse individuals in the design process. By gaining insight into human-computer interaction from their perspective, interventions can be tailored to their specific needs. Historically, people with disabilities and neurodiverse individuals have been underrepresented in these industries. However, this project is breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity in technology and learning environments.

Additionally, AI and VR simulators can support professionals in special education, intervention, and instructional design. By providing training opportunities for neurodiverse learners in fields like cybersecurity and STEM, we can create more pathways to success for these individuals. These simulations enhance their technical skills and foster confidence, enabling them to pursue rewarding careers.

To understand how neurodiverse individuals perceive their environment, the research team used computer vision to analyze participants’ attention to physical objects during their virtual journeys. This analysis revealed that autistic individuals exhibit unique attention and gaze patterns due to sensory processing challenges. By understanding these perspectives, interventions can be designed to address their specific needs and support their navigation through real-world scenarios.

In a study conducted by the research team, young autistic adults were asked to navigate an on-campus bus system through a virtual simulation. The simulation included an instructor demonstrating the skills required for real-life navigation. By providing guidance and a safe environment for practice, these simulations empower individuals to overcome challenges and become more comfortable in public spaces. The potential impact of these interventions extends beyond medicine, highlighting the importance of holistic approaches in helping autistic individuals thrive in society.

The integration of AI and VR in the design of learning interventions has great potential for creating inclusive environments and empowering neurodiverse individuals. By harnessing technology, we can break down barriers, promote understanding, and provide targeted support. As we advance in these fields, it is crucial to involve neurodiverse individuals in the design process to ensure their needs are met and their voices are heard.

In conclusion, the use of virtual reality simulations and AI interventions is revolutionizing the support provided to neurodiverse individuals. By involving them in the design process, these innovations promote inclusivity, understanding, and empowerment. The skills developed in virtual environments can be seamlessly applied to real-life situations, resulting in increased self-confidence and meaningful contributions to society. Embracing the potential of technology is essential as we strive for a more inclusive future where everyone can thrive.