Anxiety disorders affect around half of children with ASD, with specific fears and phobias being one of the most common anxiety subtypes. Gradual exposure to the object of a phobia can help, but may require adaption for those with ASD. One possible solution is the use of immersive virtual reality environments (VREs) that allow participants to experience those things/situations which they find difficult but in a controlled and safe environment. Participants can navigate through the situation they find anxiety provoking (e.g. a street or school) and with therapist support at all times, learn new skills to manage their anxiety.
In an initial study we showed that using a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) approach combined with an ‘immersive VRE’ reduced specific phobia or fear in young people with ASD, and led to functional improvements in managing real life anxiety provoking situations. The results were published in PLoS One, and reported by a number of media outlets – a list of those news items, and videos showing the treatment in action can be found here, under the heading 'Autism Invention press release'.
New – NHS treatment of children
Following a successful application to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), we went on to undertake a trial of the treatment through two local NHS Trusts – Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust. 32 children received the treatment in 2015 and 2016 – the results of the trial will be available in early 2017.
The Newcastle Blue Room treatment is now available to families throughout the UK via the NHS – please click on this link to find out how to obtain a referral to the NHS service.
You can browse the answers to a list of commonly asked Blue Room FAQs November 2016 (PDF:217KB)
Newcastle University staff and students linked to the project: