During the last three months, the school of Santamäki in Kempele, Finland, has focused on detecting early signs of ADHD-like symptoms among the pupils. They have joined forces with Peili Vision, piloting the newly developed Virtual Reality (VR) application, ARVO. The tool simulates everyday situations, asks the user to perform various tasks, and makes an assessment of challenges in executive functions according to the results.

The current methods to evaluate executive performance rely on the pedagogical expertise of the teacher. However, the early, often subtle signs of individual challenges in learning can stay hidden in the classroom. Here, the VR application can serve as a valuable tool to help the school’s decision-making.

Pentti Rautakoski, the headmaster at the school, says the project has been a much-anticipated step toward helping all kids get the most out of learning.

“Detecting and tackling any individual challenges among the children is a key factor in providing the best possible learning experience for everyone – and making sure no one is left behind,” says Rautakoski.

Prioritizing equal learning opportunities

Studies show that in Finland, 6-8 % of children, or one child per classroom, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The associated challenges in executive functions often have a negative impact on school success.

“Children who experience obstacles in executive performance have a harder time focusing on a given task or assignment. This takes a toll on learning and can be detrimental to a child’s self-esteem,” explains Rautakoski.

The effects of ADHD-like symptoms among pupils accumulate over time. Problems will amplify as school gets more demanding and requires increasing levels of independent work. Detecting early signs of deficits in executive functions is critical in assuring all the pupils reach their curriculum goals.

“It is our responsibility to provide a learning platform where everyone can feel equally hopeful about their future, without being insecure about their abilities to advance in life along with their peers.”

Resources as a limiting factor

The school takes specific actions to help children with challenges in executive functions. The staff will evaluate the situation and make the necessary arrangements to support the learning.

“Our teachers learn how to detect signs of individual challenges with learning as part of their pedagogical training. When problems are detected, we work together with the parents to guarantee the best possibilities for success in school. This includes smaller working groups and quieter study environments,” says Rautakoski.

Yet, detecting early signs of challenges in executive functions is not a straightforward process. Picking up clues of individual problems can be challenging in a classroom full of students, all with distinct personalities.

“Problems with executive functions are not solely defined by inattention and being overly active. Sometimes the pupils will seek solidity instead, or give up on the tasks altogether. We worry many children who need extra support go undetected and are left outside of the remedial actions provided by the teachers.”

ARVO: a next-generation tool to evaluate executive functions in school

During the collaboration with Peili Vision, the School of Santamäki has been using ARVO to measure performance in everyday tasks among the pupils. The results will be used to evaluate the need for extra support in the classroom.

The application has earlier gone through preliminary testing at Aalto University with promising outcomes. This time, it was pilot tested at the school of Santamäki in a real-world setting with children aged 9, 10, and 11, and the results will be out soon.

“This is our first trial using a digital tool to measure executive functions at our school. If the results we have seen so far will hold, I can see ARVO becoming a standard tool to help our teachers in their everyday decision-making,” says Rautakoski.

The children have also enjoyed the trial period with Peili Vision. They are familiar with VR from computer games and were excited to try out the technology in a school environment.

“The application was easy to use, and there were no issues during the research period. Working with Peili Vision’s professional and customer-centric team has been a pleasure,” concludes Rautakoski.

Peili Vision is an Oulu-based company with a thorough background in developing VR tools for health applications.