A webcam projects his or her facial expressions onto a digital avatar that interacts with the avatar of an autism therapist.
One or more virtual characters join in as the therapist presents the day’s situation. It may be a job interview, a new neighbor or a blind date. The counselor also describes the social skills they’ll be practicing. The task may involve recognizing the unspoken intentions behind a behavior or sharing an opinion in a socially acceptable way.
Overall, the previous literature in HFAadults has demonstrated that targeted interventions canimprove social skills and social cognition. However, themajority of these interventions have been social skills-based and group-based which may limit the amount ofpractice of social skills and the amount of time spentinteracting with others outside the autism spectrum.
Unlike other therapeutic options,such as role-playing, VR represents real-life experiences ina safe, controllable manner that allow for repeated practiceand exposure, which is a key element in treatment. VR canalso provide naturalistic environments with unlimitedsocial scenarios and has been shown to replicate socialconditions
Importantly, VRallows for social interactions without the high levels ofstress, fears of mistakes or rejection that is commonlyencountered in face-to-face exchanges
The flexibility of VR environments,their removal of common stressors of face-to-face inter-actions, and their inherent appeal to many adults with ASD,all suggest that VR may prove to be a more effectiveplatform for enhancing social skills and social cognition inASD compared to other therapeutic tools that are moredidactic and constrained in their application.
While these previous VR studies showed promise, theywere limited in several ways. First, the VR softwareincorporated AI in which the participant made a mouseclick on the screen to activate feedback on programmedsocial decisions. This explicit and discrete skill setapproach and software may limit practice, feedback, andpossibly the effects of social interventions. Secondly,measurement of social performance over time was limitedto experimental measures. Measurement of social skills andbehavior is difficult especially since few social measuresare published or standardized. A further complication is thelack of sensitive measures, which can impact results ofsocial skills program making them appear less effective
Training games have many potential benefits for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) intervention, such as increasing motivation and improving the abilities of performing daily living activities, due to their ability to simulate real world scenarios. A more motivating game may stimulate users to play the game more, and it may also result in users performing better in the game. Incorporating users’ interests into the game could be a good way to build a motivating game, especially for users with ASD.
Autism is a mental disorder which has received attention in several unrelated studies using virtual reality. One of the first attempts was to diagnose children with special needs at Tokyo University using a sandbox playing technique. Although operating the computer controls proved to be too difficult for the individuals with autism in the Tokyo study, research at the University of Nottingham, UK, is successful in using VR as a learning aid for children with a variety of disorders including autism. Both centers used flat screen computer systems with virtual scenes.