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VR Can Improve Social Skills In People With Autism

88% of participants in a new study were able to identify a virtual reality avatar’s facial expression

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Individuals with autism often struggle with socialisation and communication. Researchers investigated using VR as a behavioural modification tool to help young persons with autism improve their abilities to communicate and interact in social situations. The study was presented at the 2023 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting. It concluded that virtual reality can improve social and communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Video Game Therapy

Games have been used in therapy for autism for quite some time. Several therapy-specific games are already available to the public. Mightier is a video game therapy program that includes a heart monitor on an armband. The program aims to teach children on the spectrum to regulate their emotions. There is also BrainlyAct which uses Xbox Kinect technology to teach children with disabilities essential life skills. However, there are no VR game therapy programs for children with autism currently available on the market.

As part of the study, researchers gathered and analysed articles found in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IEEE Xplore, Google Scholar, National Autism Center, and PubMed databases. While analysing the articles, the researchers evaluated members of the autism spectrums’ ability to recognise facial expressions, regulate their emotions, and receptiveness to virtual reality.

Researchers compared pre and post-VR training performances. According to the results, there is a significant increase in NEPSYII affect recognition in children with autism after VR therapy. Additionally, the study shows that VR as a behaviour modification tool can increase executive function fluid reasoning in children with ASD.

Children on the spectrum also showed notable improvements in social attribution. After VR training, 88% of participants were able to correctly identify the facial expressions of a VR avatar. The research also shows that children with autism continued to show improved affective and social-conversational behaviours for roughly an hour after a VR session. Additionally, children with ASD also reportedly enjoyed using VR more than the neurotypical control group. Despite the positive results, researchers state that VR therapy for children with autism requires more research to fully understand its benefits and limitations.

Written By

Jack Brassell is a freelance journalist and aspiring novelist. Jack is a self-proclaimed nerd with a lifelong passion for storytelling. As an author, Jack writes mostly horror and young adult fantasy. Also an avid gamer, she works as the lead news editor at Hardcore Droid. When she isn't writing or playing games, she can often be found binge-watching Parks & Rec or The Office, proudly considering herself to be a cross between Leslie Knope and Pam Beasley.

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