Four people with virtual reality headsets outside Aberdeen International Airport.Virtual Reality technology is being taken on tour to help North East residents learn about autism by seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic child.

Our roadshow, which takes place during World Autism Awareness Week, got off to a flying start at Aberdeen International Airport thanks to support from Mark McDonald MSP. He said:

I want to encourage as many non-autistic people as possible to experience The National Autistic Society Scotland's installation whilst it is in the North East.  This experience is likely to be the closest feeling you can get of what it is like to try and cope with your surroundings when you have autism.

"One of the most challenging aspects of trying to help an autistic person is understanding how they see, hear and experience their surroundings. Most of us aren't bothered by background noise or peripheral lights, but for some people on the autistic spectrum it really doesn't take much to trigger a terrifying flood of anxiety and unease in their environment. This virtual reality experience is great example of how technology can be used in a positive way to help us understand each other better and respond with compassion to people who may need a bit of extra support."

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 judgemental looks.

It will be available in Union Square shopping centre, Scotrail’s Aberdeen and Inverurie stations, Tesco in Banchory and Turriff, Garioch Leisure Centre and Sport Aberdeen’s Beach Leisure Centre and Linx Arena on different days this week (27 March – 2 April).

The roadshow forms part of Autism Friendly Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, a unique project which aims to increase understanding of autism amongst those living in the North East, support autistic residents to develop social and independent travel skills, and leave a legacy of autism-friendly groups and activities. 

Jenny Paterson, director of The National Autistic Society Scotland, said:

Two thirds of autistic people in Scotland feel socially isolated, and many don’t go out because they are worried about how others will react to them. The people we support tell us they are regularly on the receiving end of tutting, staring and unkind comments.

“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. 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.”

The project is being delivered by The National Autistic Society Scotland and Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnerships. It is estimated that there are more than 4,700 autistic people living in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Philip English, partnership manager for Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership said:  “We are delighted to be working with The National Autistic Society Scotland on this initiative.

"I hope as many people as possible take the opportunity to experience the virtual reality technology on its tour of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. By using this technology people will get a glimpse of what it is like to live with autism. 

“We hope it will lead to a better understanding of autism and break down some of the barriers faced by autistic people on a daily basis.”

As part of the initiative to make the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire autism friendly, Aberdeen and Peterhead Football Clubs, Union Square, Scotrail’s Inverurie Rail Station and Sport Aberdeen have committed to ensuring autistic customer can access and enjoy their venues. Aberdeen Football Club has already received The National Autistic Society Scotland’s Autism Friendly Award, and the charity hopes that even more organisations will take on the challenge.

Three women with virtual-reality headsets