Virtual reality simulator at Gorleston’s James Paget Hospital reveals what it’s like to live with autism

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

What does it feel like to live with autism?

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

If you think of a noisy, chaotic situation where you struggle to concentrate and process information - then times it by 100, with bells on, you are getting somewhere close.

A simulator staged at Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital has been giving people a six-minute taste of what it's like to live on the spectrum.

The aim is to help care providers better understand the challenges their patients face and how they can make changes to improve their experience.

And it recognises that a busy hospital with the babble of chatter, constant beeps and alerts is an environment that makes most people anxious, especially those with autism.

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Chelsey Cookson from Training2Care who run the ex

Autism Reality Experience at James Paget Hospital. Chelsey Cookson from Training2Care who run the experience. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017


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More than 100 people including consultants and parents immersed themselves in the Autism Reality Experience - all of whom were shocked and stunned by the sensory overload and instantly more sympathetic to what people were having to cope with.

The process involves having all five senses overloaded and then being given five simple tasks to complete.

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On average most people only manage one or two with some not even being aware they were given things to do.

Kara Riseborough, a senior occupational therapist, found the experience 'a real eye-opener'.

She said: 'I felt under pressure to get something done but I could not take on board what it was.

'It was the sheer noise and the fear of even trying when I needed someone to help and there was no-one there. It was very disorientating and I did not even know where I was stepping.

'As therapists we talk to people with dementia and learning difficulties all the time and we are quite mindful of their needs, but this is brilliant as a refresher.'

The virtual experience was launched in January by Essex-based training2care. So far it has been to prisons, schools, airports and health care providers but this was its first visit to a hospital.

Chelsey Cookson, who helped put it together, said the simulator was a powerful tool and that the experience stayed with people.

Rebecca Crossley, learning disability and autism specialist nurse, said: 'Nothing can beat this. I have had parents coming out in tears saying 'I did not know what my daughter was going through'.'

Reporter Liz Coates gives her verdict

Firstly we were sat down and read the riot act.

There would be no help, no answers to our questions, and we would have a short amount of time at the end to complete some tasks we would be told about during a video.

No pressure then.

Having pulled on two pairs of gloves it was time for the glasses and the floor reared up alarmingly.

I already felt queasy.

Taking just a few steps into the unit was a problem as was sitting down on a prickly chair amid flashing coloured lights not unlike a disco.

The video comprised a series of images, noises and unfiltered sounds building to a cacophony of dripping taps, ticking clocks, vacuuming, and dogs barking.

I was given instructions which I understood and can recall.

But when the video finished I was confused, muddled them all up and was gripped by frustration and rising panic, just like someone with autism.

Have you got a health story? Email geraldine.scott@archant.co.uk

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