Using Virtual Reality to help People Experiencing Autism

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Jethro Jones: On this episode
of a vision for learning.

I'm going to play a recording
from a previous interview

that I did on my podcast.

Transformative Principal.

This is from.


In July when I talked
with VJ, Robin, John.

About Florio, which is an app
that helps kids with autism

understand social interactions.

This is really powerful because it
combines the iPhone with the VR headset.

With VR therapy, which is pretty cool.

And what I'm really excited about are
these kinds of opportunities that kids and

adults are going to have to experience.

Things in new ways that they haven't
had an opportunity to experience before.

I'm hopeful that I'll get to
have another conversation with VJ

here in the next couple of days,
and be able to bring that in.

But I wanted to share this episode.

Because this was three years ago.

Where he was already doing this
kind of work and., even though.

The apple vision pro is new.

This idea of using virtual
reality to help people.

Is not new.

And so I'm really excited.

For you to hear this and experience it.

And you may not have heard this
on Transformative Principal.

So here's my interview from
Transformative Principal.

No edits, no updates.

So this is three years old, but I still
think there's something valuable in here.

And I especially want you
to stick around to the end.

And hear what he says about how
to be a Transformative Principal.

And understanding what people
are experiencing and then how to

work backwards to support them.

Welcome to transformative principle today.

I am excited to have VJ at
Ravindran on the podcast.

How'd I do pronouncing your last name.

I'm all.

I'm all worried down.



All right.

So VJ created a awesome
app that is called Florio.

And so VJ, I'll let you tell a little
bit about the story of that and how that

can be an app to help kids with autism.

We'll start.


Vijay Ravindran: Great.

Thanks for having me on, you know, Florio
as a company was started four years

ago, the company is inspired by my son
who is 10 and on the autism spectrum.

And the idea for the, for the
system that we've developed.

Using virtual reality came
from his first experience using

a virtual reality headset.

Um, back in late 2015, he really
likes maps and navigation.

And, uh, he I've seen the Google
street view had just come out in VR.

And so I had them try it
out using a Samsung gear VR.

And you really liked it.

He started engaging in pretend play
for the first time, which is a delayed

skill for a lot of kids with autism.

And that triggered the idea
that what if virtual reality

could be a therapy media for.

And so what we have today is a application
that runs on both iPhone and iPad.

It say it's an app, but it's really a
system that combines the use of an iPhone

and a virtual reality headset with an
iPad, uh, that talks over the network.

And, uh, and then enables
a supervising adults to.

Coach through the iPad therapy
sessions or training sessions

for a child as they enter into
the virtual reality environment.

And, uh, and then experience scenes
that, um, work on different developments.

Jethro Jones: Yeah, I
really, I really liked that.

And so being able to have a, a coach in
there with you, I mean, I just downloaded

the app and used it myself with, you
know, some Google cardboard that I had

sitting around and it was, uh, just
the trial part was a neat experience.

And so my daughter has down
syndrome and she exhibits some of

the same characteristics of kids
who are on the autism spectrum.

And of course there are different.

And they have different, uh,
abilities and skills and developmental

levels and all that kind of stuff.

But, uh, the idea of doing therapy through
VR sounds like a really cool thing.

Can you talk a little bit more
about how that actually works

and what the mechanics of that

Vijay Ravindran: are?

Yeah, I'm happy to, and then you're right.

There's once you start diving into
this world of, uh, people with

developmental delays, you realize
there's actually quite a bit of overlap.

Treatments across the board.

You know, when we first started this
path, uh, our vision was that really,

that VR could help in two different ways.

The first was that there's opportunities
to create the type of therapies

that are being done face to face.

Using fun, animated characters, you
know, kids with autism go through

hundreds of thousands of hours of
therapy and they can get pretty

monotonous and patronizing at some point.

And so, you know, at first objective,
let's just make this more fun.

Let's figure out a way to recreate what's
being done with toys and play paradigms

face to face and create an NBR can
make it much more fun the second area.

And so we have scenes that, you know,
work on things like eye contact or how

to imitate another, another person.

So we were able to use cartoon characters,
fun animals, we can do silly stuff

and we can, we can use animations and
rewards in life to really spread that.

The second area that we saw VR
was very powerful and it ends up.

It's also a major area of
developmental focus today is, uh,

is around social and life skills.

So we have lots of therapy to help a
child with the basics like eye contact.

Today's world.

Uh, what we don't have is that as
they get older and older, how to

help them with those much more subtle
social skills or how to help them in

safety situations that are hard to
replicate in the therapist office.

And some there we were able to, in virtual
reality, we can create situations that

you can't recreate on therapist office.

So we can have a child go through a
law enforcement encounter and practice.

Talking to that police officer
in a way that'll keep them safe.

We can have them practice crossing
the street and looking both ways,

but without the consequences of
messing up in the real world.


And for the social skills, you know,
we can put you in the school and the

cafeteria and the classroom, but moreover,
you know, today for traditional therapy,

a child is essentially taught by an adult.

And so I've seen with my own son where
he will be able to handle a situation

if it's adult to child, but then on the
playground, when it's another child is

not able to necessarily traverse that.

And in VR, we can create the characters
to be, to match the children and age.

We can vary the race and ethnicity.

Make sure that both genders are
represented so that we can create actually

a much more comprehensive set of, yeah.

Jethro Jones: So I love those examples
that you shared about being able to

go into these situations where it's
hard for them to, to practice that

in a therapy session, especially
with consequences that are there.

And so I've seen so many amazing
creative things from my own daughters

therapists with different ways of
helping her learn different things and.

And, you know, she's doing some physical
therapy right now and she painted this

giant picture and the whole purpose
of the giant picture was to help her

put equal weight on each of her legs.

And it was, that was the whole
purpose, but she didn't even know

that's what she was working on.

And she couldn't comprehend that that's
what she needed to work on, but the

therapist was going above and beyond
doing these great things to help.

With that.

And, and I love that this app now gives
therapists an additional opportunity to,

to incorporate those things in as well.

And I think that the, the truly lifesaving
features can be really important.

And you shared an example of not
being able to, to associate an

interaction with a, an adult with
a peer, like out on the playground.

And I've seen that so many times with
students at school, but also with my own

child where, when it's somebody who's.

Standing over them telling them
this is how things need to happen.

They've been able to be
successful, but then when it's

appear, then that just goes away.

And then with privacy issues and things
like that, you can't always get those

peers to come into the therapy room and
participate in those same activities.

So I love, I love what
you're doing with that.

What are some of the stories that you've
seen, where kids have used this and

have been able to grow because of using.


Vijay Ravindran: You know, we
we've gotten some great stories.

Um, I'll just add one thing also from what
you do, what you just said is that one

of the really fascinating and powerful
things we've seen is that once you put

this in the hands of professionals, like
therapists and special education teachers,

they use it, they use the scenes in ways
that we don't necessarily have predicted.

They they're able to come
up with ways to help kids.

And as a Alina into your question,
And we've seen that play out.

Um, we had one school
system in Pennsylvania.

That's been using the system
successfully used Florio with a PTSD

and schizophrenia child that was
having major fears of going outside.

And our street crossing lessons ended
up helping that child get enough

confidence that they could actually.

Um, with the next phase of, uh,
of acclimatization to the outside

world, they want it to, with the
child, we've had, uh, kids who have

been mostly non-verbal interact
with this and literally get feedback

that they've never seen the child.

Uh, interact and traditional therapy
and an as engaged way as they have here.

But going beyond the anecdotal, we have
made a big emphasis around research.

We pretty soon after starting the
company started looking at research

partners and two important ones early
on, or a special education school in New

Jersey called celebrate the children.

And the children's hospital,
Philadelphia center for autism research.

And so with celebrate the children, a
special needs school with north, the New

Jersey, we have, we held our first study
where we had 12 kids go through five

weeks of three times a week intervention.

And these were kids with
moderate to severe autism.

And we were able to.

Work on their eye contact
using lessons we've developed.

We were able to do benchmarking before and
four weeks after the study and were able

to show improvement in 10 of the 12 kids.

And, uh, we're proud to say that
those results were published in

JMIR pediatrics and parenting.

Uh, medical journal, uh, last summer and,
um, separately with children's hospital,

Philadelphia, uh, where the recipient of
a what's called an NIH fast-track grant.

So we received a $1.7 million
grant in 2017 that has helped on

really groundbreaking research
at the intersection of the autism

community and virtual reality.

We're in the third year of that research
now and in a randomized clinical trial.

Um, which is unfortunately a little bit
on pause at the moment given COVID 19.

So we'll see when we were able to
get back to doing that, but we've

been able to show that Florio is safe
and highly enjoyable in that study.

Um, based on the phase one and.

Year of the phase two at chop,
we were, uh, in a controlled

treatment structure where we were
going head to head against, uh, a

well-established, uh, video-based therapy.

And so we've made it a
priority early on to focus on.

Gathering the type of research
that also shows that Florio is

worth the time of these tips.

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I just think that is so fantastic.

And it's something the reason why I wanted
to talk to you on this podcast and share

this with principals around the country
is that I had never thought of using VR.

As a tool for helping
kids with autism and.

As an educator been baffled for years
about how to reach specific kids, how

to help them, how to do things that
would accelerate their growth and all

while recognizing that, just because
they may not be able to communicate

with us doesn't mean that they don't
have feelings and concerns and passions

and desires and all that kind of stuff.

Trying to find a way that we can
adapt what we're doing to help them.

And, and so when I read about
Florio, I thought that it was

just such a great way to do that.

And so now, as we, as we think about
doing this at scale or moving this

into other places across the country
in schools and then private therapy

sessions and at children's hospitals,
what are the challenges you see to

people adopting Florio for working
with kids with autism specifically?


Vijay Ravindran: that's great.

Great question.

And you know, so we're we're today we
have 18, uh, clinic and school customers.

And, uh, I would say the biggest
challenge is helping both families

and the professionals that work
with, uh, with kids with autism.

Think about how you can schedule
and integrate a product like ours.

When these kids are already scheduled to
the hilt and their time is very precious.

And, uh, using the virtual
reality is still not commonplace.

And so there is some apprehension around
the technology that, you know, in many

cases, you know, we carry the burden of
being the first virtual reality experience

for both the adults and the child.

And so we're presenting this it's
the first time they've used VR.

I'm not to the kids, but the adults, in
many cases, the kids have already used

VR because of games, but for parents or
teachers or therapists that this is new.

And so that then ends up being a
challenge, you know, excitingly, we

announced last week that, uh, the system,
which again, is really two pieces, a

smartphone and a virtual reality have
said, and an iPad for the developed that.

We now support the iPad running over
the network in that teletherapy or

video conferencing style of deployment.

And so, oh, that's very cool.

Given the challenges happening across
the world right now with being in the

same place at the same time, you know,
these kids are suffering where they're

not receiving the therapies that they
were two weeks ago, three weeks ago.

So we think Florida has a big role
that it could play in helping by.

Behavioral therapy over virtual reality.

But yeah, I think virtual reality
is still a new technology.

So there's a barrier there, you
know, there's, there's an investment

around equipment, which we've tried
to bring the cost down dramatically

through a partnership with sprint
the mobile carrier where we're

sourcing refurbished equipment.

But I would say the biggest
barrier above all else is that a

child with autism has a very busy
schedule, um, with their existing

therapies, uh, on top of schooling.

Thinking through not only whether
Florio can help, but whether

it's worth integrating that into
their already busy schedules in

some manner is a big decision.


Jethro Jones: for sure.

And so it's not, it's not just one
specific type of therapy, either,

depending on the child's ability level,
it could be a lot of different therapies

that, you know, you, you may not somebody
else, you know, who's not actively

engaged with that with their own child.

May not realize how many
different therapies.

Right for that student to be successful.

So yeah.

So VJ, I think what you've
done is really great.

Can you tell us how to get to,
to learn more about Florio?

Vijay Ravindran: Yeah.

If you've at our website, Florio

That's I O R E O T E C H.

Um, from there, you can basically
register to get more information

from someone on the team.

You can also go directly through the app
store, if you have an iPhone and an iPad

and download the app, and then you'll
need to talk to us through link to, uh,

figure out the appropriate subscriptions.

So we have subscription plans for
the software, both for enterprises

like schools and clinics, as well
as for families who are looking

to do home supplemental care.

Jethro Jones: And, and so
that's the route that I went.

I just download the app,
tried it out for myself.

I gave it to my kids to try a little
bit of, and they, they enjoyed it.

And there's there's enough there
that you could see if there is.

If there's a engagement piece,
right from the beginning.

And so I could tell immediately
that all of my kids, not just my

daughter with down syndrome were
able to engage and understand how

to, how to work with it right away.

And it was, it was really neat to see
that, to see them be able to just pick

it up and start doing stuff with it.

So the last question I asked VJ is what
is one thing that a principal can do

this week to be a transformative leader?


Vijay Ravindran: Well, I mean, this
is a, this is a very special week.

Isn't it?

Given that the world is going
to, I think starting with, uh,

understanding the unique situations
that families and students are in

right now, especially working from
home parents, trying to juggle.

Working from home while their
kids are being homeschooled

through some cotton packets.

And, you know, I think, you know,
many years ago I worked at Amazon and

we had an expression that you start
with the customer and work backwards.

And I think that's no, that is
extra true right now because we've

never really imagined being in the
situation that we're in to the site.

We were trapped inside.

We are, so that's a big piece, but, um,
you know, for me, what's really motivated

me to start the company and work on this
for the last four years is, is knowing

how much potential these kids have.

And what's possible if
they can get through.

Tools delivered to them and the
professionals and family around them.

And so that's been very motivating.

Jethro Jones: Yeah, definitely.

All right.

Well VJ, thank you so much for your time.

This has been an awesome conversation.

I really appreciate all the
work that you were doing.

Thanks so much for being part
of transformative principal.

Thank you for having me

Using Virtual Reality to help People Experiencing Autism