By Raquel on Apr 2, 2019 6:37:33 PM
Autism is a lifelong, non-progressive neurobehavioral condition that impairs social interaction and developmental language. It is a developmental disability that affects verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.
It is a very complex disorder and due to its range of symptoms, it is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD affects a wide range of communication skills along with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Children and adults can exhibit any combination of these behaviors in any degree of severity. People with the same diagnosis can act very differently from one another and have different social challenges.
ASD ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits a person's ability to live an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care. People with autism have trouble communicating and understanding what other people’s thoughts and emotions. This makes it very hard for them to express themselves either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
How To Use Virtual Reality To Educate Autistic Children
1. During the last two decades, the use of virtual reality (VR) technologies in the education of autistic children has been a focus in research. The use of technology allows for exposure to “real world” experiences for social and life skills training in a safe, controlled and repeatable virtual environment (VE). The use of VR-HMD for children and adults on the autism spectrum has been the key focus for several studies categorized by differences in the type of application, technology used and participant characteristics.
2. Whilst there are some grounds for optimism, more research is needed on the use of this technology within the educational settings to ensure appropriate recommendations can be made on the implementation, use and sustainability of this approach. According to the study made by Didehbani (2016), Parsons & Cobb (2011) & Tzanavari (2015), there is evidence that hints to the opportunity to individualise, rehearse and repeat social scenarios across different contexts for the generalisation of social skills learned in VE to everyday life interactions.
3. Those studies usually cover screen-based media types (i.e. monitors/TV screens) or more immersive systems that involve projections of animations being displayed on the walls and ceilings of a screened space, Wallace et al. (2010) is an example. However, due to the positive findings related to these VRTs, there has been growing interest in the potential of head-mounted displays (HMDs) as a form of VE for autistic groups as shown in Adjorlu et al., (2016); Newbutt et al., (2016). The research is now an emerging field to focus on where: “questions surrounding the acceptability and practicality quickly need to be addressed if we are to develop a sustainable line of inquiry surrounding HMDs and VRTs for this specific (autistic) population” Newbutt et al., (2016), p.3166.
4. Within the DSM-5 diagnosis criteria there are specific mentions of sensory issues including: “odd responses to sensory input” and “hyper‐or hypo‐reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment; such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds […]” (APA, 2013, p. 50). This criteria, coupled with heightened visual/auditory stimuli that can be part of HMD VR experiences, provide a timely need to investigate, carefully, HMD use by autistic groups.
Due to the limited evidence, more research using VR-HMD still needs to be done in order to have a stronger theoretical base. Specially the ones that include using a cellular device as the main tool. In addition, the potential of this technology to support the learning of children, young people and adults on the autistic spectrum needs to take into consideration, with a range of other approaches, that it will be implemented by practitioners, teachers and therapists and its use should be a tool that will help make their life easier. HMD technologies has a lot of potential because it can immerse an autistic patient into ‘real world’ scenarios. It may be used for the learning and assessment of children, adolescents and adults on the autistic spectrum. Furthermore, it has been shown that the devices used for VR-HMD are improving rapidly and are becoming easier for everyday use.
As a disclaimer from Psious, we highly recommend researching alternative ways to treat autism, but we have some environments that may be helpful for autistic patients. Environments such as the bar to practice social skills, any of the mindfulness simulations to practice focus or any environment that allow patients to describe their surroundings and communicate with the therapist.