Treating Autism, Virtually

Speaking of the University of Texas at Dallas, its Center for Brain Health gets a shout-out this morning in the subscription-only Chronicle of Higher Education: The center's using virtual worlds -- more or less a retrofitted Second Life platform -- to treat patients suffering from different kinds of autistic disorders. Therapists who used to role-play with patients can now set 'em up in front of a computer screen and let them go to virtual town with their avatars. Says the center's director, Sandra Chapman: "The clinicians can change the virtual world to increase the complexity of the exercise, control for sensory overload, provide motivation, and record feedback. It's very safe."

And it's a terrific exercise in utilizing the entire school's resources for a single purpose: The virtual world in which these patients wander was designed by students in UTD's game-design program. --Robert Wilonsky

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