VR experiences provides unique look into life as a child with Autism

A powerful virtual reality experience is being taken on tour to help people see life through the eyes of an autistic child.

The cutting-edge technology transports users to a busy shopping centre, which they see from the perspective of an autistic child who is experiencing sensory overload and struggling with glaring lights, loud music and judgmental looks.

The roadshow kicked off at Aberdeen International Airport as part of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign.

Mark McDonald MSP, whose son is on the autistic spectrum, was supporting the event during what is World Autism Awareness Week.

The Aberdeen Donside MSP said the technology was the closest he’s got to seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic child.

He said: “It is a very powerful presentation, I have a child on the autistic spectrum, as people will be aware.

“And for me it is the closest I have come to experiencing the world the way that my son sees it – which I think is a really powerful experience.

“I would encourage as many people as possible, whether or not they have a child or family member on the autistic spectrum, to sample this.

“While it won’t be completely representative of every individual’s experience, it will, nonetheless, help broaden awareness and understanding of autism, and that can only be a good thing.”

Jenny Paterson, director of The National Autistic Society Scotland, added: “We want to increase understanding of the condition – which affects one in 100 people – in order to tackle this issue, and build more compassionate communities.

VIEW: A scene from the presentation. Above, Alex Salmond dons the headset.
The VR footage helps illustrate the sensory overload experienced by children with autism.

“This World Autism Awareness Week, I hope that people living in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will visit our roadshow, try our VR experience and see the world through the eyes of an autistic person.”

Alex Salmond, former First Minister and MP for Gordon, tried the piece of equipment as he was passing through the airport on his way to catch a flight to Birmingham for a special edition of the BBC’s Question Time programme.

He said: “It felt very personal to me as I could hear the woman in the video shouting Alex.

“It made for a very powerful presentation and I think this is a very valuable tool for people to understand what a child with autism is going through.

“It was fully immersive.”

Loud sounds, glaring lights and judgemental looks all add to the sensory overload.

Jade Treasurer, who has twin seven-year-old boys with autism, heard about the event through social media and said it helped her understand what her boys see.

The 34-year-old said: “I wanted to experience what it was like for them.

“I just saw noise and light and how everything comes towards you type thing.

“It has definitely given me more of an understanding to see what it is like for them; to go into a supermarket hearing and seeing things that we wouldn’t.”

The VR experience highlights the audio and visual onslaught experienced by people with the condition.

The technology will be at the Union Square shopping centre today from 9am.

It will then travel around the North-east including Tesco in Turriff tomorrow from 9am, Tesco in Banchory on Thursday from 9am and Aberdeen’s train station on Friday at 10.30am.

This weekend will see the roadshow in Inverurie train station on Saturday morning from 10am, Garioch Leisure Centre on Saturday afternoon from 2pm and at the Beach Leisure Centre from 9am on Sunday.