Avatars, Humanoids, and the Changing Landscape of Assessment and Intervention for Individuals with Disabilities across the Lifespan

Avatars, Humanoids, and the Changing Landscape of Assessment and Intervention for Individuals with Disabilities across the Lifespan

Emily Hotez (City University of New York – Hunter College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0034-6.ch004


In recent years, there has been a burgeoning field of research on the applications of virtual reality and robots for children, adolescents, and adults with a wide range of developmental disabilities. The influx of multidisciplinary collaborations among developmental psychologists and computer scientists, as well as the increasing accessibility of interactive technologies, has created a need to equip potential users with the information they need to make informed decisions about using virtual reality and robots. This chapter aims to 1) provide parents, professionals, and individuals with developmental disabilities with an overview of the literature on virtual reality and robot interventions in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; and to 2) address overarching questions pertaining to utilizing virtual reality and robots. This chapter will shed light on the far-reaching potential for interactive technologies to transform therapeutic, educational, and assessment contexts, while also highlighting limitations and suggesting directions for future research.
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The driving force behind coordinating the goals of individuals with disabilities with interactive technology is the unique capability of technology to attract and maintain the interests of the users. Researchers have demonstrated the potential for virtual reality to promote children’s participation in education, communication, and play settings (Chantry & Dunford, 2010). For example, Reid (2002) employed a virtual reality, play-based intervention (Mandala® GestureXtreme™) in which three school children with CP engaged in applications such as virtual drums, paint, and volleyball. Following the intervention, children showed greater self-efficacy, motivation, and engagement in play. In another study, Kim et al. (2013) investigated the potential for Pleo™, a social dinosaur robot to improve social interaction among children with ASD. The authors ascribed the robot’s greater efficacy in eliciting children’s social behaviors from the excitement and interest children spontaneously expressed towards it. The enjoyment that children experience from engaging with interactive technologies has also been demonstrated in older individuals, even if the intended outcome of the interactive technology was not achieved (e.g., ASD symptoms; Austin, Abbott, & Cabris, 2008). These findings underscore the potential for virtual reality and robots to serve as a highly motivating context for assessment, education, and therapy for individuals with disabilities across the lifespan.

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