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Can Virtual Reality Assist Special Needs Students?

Technology in the classroom offers many benefits for students with disabilities; special needs teachers can now engage their students more comprehensively than ever before due to assistive technologies. For example, virtual reality is making its way into special education classrooms, where it provides students with opportunities to control their environments without physically moving objects. Special needs teachers, including those working toward a Master’s Degree of Education in Special Education, can benefit their students by keeping current with advances in technology that can improve the classroom environment.

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a three-dimensional, artificial environment generated by a computer. The user generally wears goggles, headphones and gloves, all of which are all linked to the computer system. The user experiences an environment that looks and feels authentic, and the software provides an immersive experience during which the user can interact with and explore the virtual world.

Giving Special Needs Students Control

Special education students may have physical limitations that restrict the control they can exert over their regular environments. However, with virtual reality, students with disabilities can control their environments in a different way, through different movements. Students practice physical skills that support their own rehabilitative goals, which provides a sense of skill mastery to students who otherwise do not experience this sense of control.

Special Needs Students Can Practice “Real World” Skills

Virtual reality gives students with disabilities the opportunity to practice “real world” skills in a safe environment. Everyday skills such as getting dressed, obeying traffic signals while crossing the street, and shopping in the grocery store are all experiences that students can practice in virtual reality. Students may even be able to take virtual field trips, visiting places in their communities they would not normally be able to experience.

Controlling Stimuli

Virtual reality interfaces are adaptable to each child’s needs. For example, students with sensory disorders, such as not being able to handle a great deal of stimuli, can use the virtual reality interface in a modified manner that presents fewer auditory or visual cues.

Social Benefits and Increased Self-Esteem

Certain virtual reality programs can network with other users. This gives students with disabilities the opportunity to interact with peers–both those with disabilities and those without–which provides a valuable social opportunity they do not always see in classrooms. Often, students can choose an avatar, which is an animated character that represents the student in the virtual reality world. This avatar can help students focus on how they visualize themselves beyond the restrictions of their disabilities.

Virtual reality is an important technology in the special education classroom. For those working toward a master’s degree in special education, or for those currently working in the field, it is important to understand the benefits virtual reality offers. Not only does it provide a safe environment wherein students can practice important skills, it also provides social learning opportunities, a sense of control of the environment, and the ability to modify the program for specific user experiences.

Learn about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


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