Program Designer Kyle Barton, age 28, who happens to be on the autism spectrum, has contributed to a virtual reality program called Charisma. A program that helps adults on the autism spectrum sharpen their perception of social cues and responses through real-time conversations in a virtual setting. The virtual learning program is steered by the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth.
Kyle is currently a staff instructor at the nonPareil Institute (http://www.npitx.org). The Institute is a nonprofit that teaches adults with autism job skills, such as coding and video game design and is located in Plano, Texas. Plano is part of the Dallas – Fort Worth metropolitan area. The institute was founded on the idea, that by giving adults with autism technical and professional skills, they could lead more independent lives. Over the past 8 years, the nonPareil Institute has grown to currently serve over 200 adults with autism within two training sites. Those training and working at nonPareil have built market competitive products, while also gaining the skills to become more independent, self-sufficient, and contributing members of the community. The nonPareil Institute has published over 10 games and apps available in the iTunes store, the Android store, on PC through Steam, as well as several books and comics available through Amazon.
Kyle’s inspiration to contribute to the program Charisma, was born out of his personal challenges and frustrations he experienced after college, during the various interview processes.
Kyle’s addition to the Charisma program, is the design of a virtual movie theater. Earlier this year, the university and nonPareil partnered to create the movie theater. The program puts adults and adolescents, with autism spectrum disorder, in social situations that can ignite fear and anxiety. For example, users of the program, can experience ordering a drink from a stranger behind the counter at a coffee shop, and teaches them how to recognize social cues.
After using the program Charisma, users have improved emotion recognition and understanding of others’ intentions, and are more likely to initiate conversations. Charisma is credited with changing brain levels, so that the brain recognizes more socially relevant information. Some of the biggest strides in users were increased self-advocacy and saying what they need in confrontational situations.
According to the 2017 National Autism Indicators Report, only about 14 percent of adults with autism spectrum disorder, who used services funded through state developmental disability agencies in 2014-15, held a paying job in their community. Kyle found this to be unacceptable. Using the program Charisma, and teaching at the nonPareil Institute, Kyle is using technology to assist others on the autism spectrum, to improve their social skills in addition to lessening their fear and anxiety. He’s made it his mission to improve life for others with autism.
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