New study finds virtual reality social condition training to be effective for children with high functioning autism
The preliminary findings of a new research study have shown that virtual reality therapy provides an effective treatment option for improving the social impairments faced by many children with autism.
Individuals with autism have difficulty with many social functions such as social interactions, social communication, and recognising the emotions of others.
The study, conducted by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, measured the impact that virtual reality social condition training had for 30 children with high functioning autism over 10 separate 1 hour sessions spanning a period of 5 weeks.
The results revealed improvements in emotion recognition, social attribution, and executive function of analogical reasoning.
What is high functioning autism?
Autism is classified into 3 severity levels, with level 3 being the most severe. Individuals with level 3 autism exhibit severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and extreme difficulty coping with change. Individuals with high functioning, or level 1, autism often have difficulty processing social cues and can become overwhelmed and anxious in social interactions as a result, especially with unfamiliar individuals and situations.
What is virtual reality social condition training?
Virtual reality social condition training enables the individual to enter an immersive virtual environment where they can safely develop their social functions. This can be learning to understand the emotions of others, practicing social communication, and learning to manage their thoughts and actions within social situations.
What advantages are provided by using virtual reality?
Virtual reality social training offers several distinct advantages over traditional social skills interventions such as emotion recognition tasks and role-plays. These advantages include:
- It provides a safe way to recreate commonly encountered social contexts so that the individual can practice many different social scenarios, such as getting to know someone at school (se image above).
- It provides the opportunity for repeated practice in dynamic, constantly changing social exchanges. Because no two social interactions are ever exactly the same, this dynamic practice more closely represents real life than rote learning and repetition.
- It provides a supportive environment for individuals to make social mistakes without the intense anxiety or fear of rejection that is commonly associated with realise situations.
- Technology is often interesting and highly motivating for individuals with high functioning autism.
The use of virtual reality to create a controlled and safe environment that is also dynamic and more closely representative of real life, is proving to be highly beneficial in helping children with high functioning autism to improve their social functions. We look forward to more research in this area in the near future.