Autistic Child As Digital Puppeteer

What INVIRTUA Does: Autistic Child As Digital Puppeteer

A child with autism expresses himself by speaking as an animated cartoon character in the office of his speech pathologist, and a contagious case of fun breaks out, infecting everyone around him. That’s what a new Nevada-based company is doing by bringing live 3D animation and interactive virtual reality to the healthcare scene.

At the Autism Society annual conference of last July 23, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Invirtua demonstrated a prototype of its live animation computer system for helping those on the autism spectrum with social, conversational and motivational skills. Live animation gives therapists, speech pathologists and parents the ability to use live cartoons to interact with their clients and children living with autism.

The characters are computer-generated “digital puppets” who come alive via special laptop computers, custom software and hardware devices used to control them. They appear on video screens where they can interact in real time, telling stories, teaching lessons, demonstrating facial expressions and playing with body language.

In many cases, the person with autism can also become the puppeteer, learning quickly how to control the animations, since the lip sync is completely automatic. Young persons of all ages and abilities have fun and enjoy the experience of communicating via cartoon characters and even life-like avatars. It adds an engaging dimension to role-playing that can be productive in several ways and leverages a child’s affinity for cartoons.

Gary Jesch, also known as “CHOPS” and founder of Invirtua, is a performance animation artist and character creator with a unique way of attracting attention. He brings people and virtual characters together…

It has truly been life-changing, in my practice. It’s a powerful reinforcer and a teaching instrument that complements my methods. Communicating through the avatar removes the authority figure and makes it easier to address certain issues, as well as teach and practice very specific skills.

Enid Webb - MA, CCC-SLP

Webb Center for Communication and Learning

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