Virtual Reality Program for Autism

Autism social functioning is the target of a new virtual reality training program that is being developed and tested

(RxWiki News) Reading body language and facial expressions of others helps us relate to one another, and it is how we learn to understand how other people are feeling. Autism often creates difficulty with these types of social skills.

To try and help young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) improve their social skills, researchers are trying to reach them with technology.

A recent study looked at using Second Life virtual reality as a way to help people with ASD improve their social skills.

"Ask a psychologist about ways to improve social skills."

A study led by Michelle Kandalaft, PhD, at the University of Texas at Dallas, used Second Life to create a virtual reality program for young adults, aged 18-26, with ASD.  The program was designed to help them improve skills in social interactions.

The program was designed to give them real world scenarios, like meeting new people, dealing with roommate conflicts, and interviewing for a job.   Eight participants with ASD interacted in the virtual reality program for 10 different sessions, each designed to work on type of social interaction.

Before and after their 10 sessions, participants were interviewed to find out how well they functioned in social scenarios using standard psychological measures for autism. 

Participants showed improvement in recognizing thoughts and emotions in others after they had the 10-session training in the virtual reality program.

This was a small study, and it is unclear if larger studies can replicate the benefits of the program. The program is fairly low cost and speaks to young adults in a venue they are familiar with – technology.   

The authors noted that these results are promising, but more research is needed before all the benefits and risks are known.

dailyRx spoke with psychiatrist Glen Elliot, MD, PhD about the use of technology in treating autism. He stated, “In general, I think computer-based training has a lot of advantages for this population…if we can find ways that allow them to move eventually from the computer to live interactions.”

The study was published in May online ahead of print in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
May 14, 2012