The Development of Virtual Reality Technologies for People on the Autism Spectrum

The Development of Virtual Reality Technologies for People on the Autism Spectrum

Nigel Newbutt (Bath Spa University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8751-6.ch023
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The role of virtual reality technologies to help people with autism has been well documented and is an area of research that continues to develop. While the evidence base is somewhat limited, there are many studies that have started to explore the potential of virtual reality technologies for people with autism. Work conducted by Strickland et al. (1996), Murray (1997), Charitos et al. (2000), Parsons and Mitchell (2002), Parsons et al. (2006, 2007), Cobb (2007), Fabri and Moore (2005), and Fabri et al. (2004) have all added to this positive picture of virtual reality technologies to support people on the autism spectrum, specifically in terms of social interaction and social skills development. This chapter uncovers the evidence base and work of others in relation to virtual reality technologies used by people with autism. This chapter concludes with a view as to what future work might pursue in this field.
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What Is Autism: A Brief Overview

Autism is described as a “spectrum” disorder, ranging from “classic” autism, involving severe learning difficulties, to high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, where typical levels of cognitive ability can be expected (Scott, 2002). However, all children and adults with an ASC experience difficulties with social understanding and communication skills. Baron-Cohen and Bolton (1993) state that autism is a condition that can affect children from birth or early childhood, and is a condition that leaves them unable to form typical social relationships or typical communication (Scott et al., 2002; Bolton et al., 1994). As a result of this, the child may become isolated from human contact and absorb the world in a repetitive, obsessive manner (Baron-Cohen and Bolton, 1993). Baird et al. (2003) describe autism as a “behaviorally defined disorder, characterised by qualitative impairments in social communication, social interaction and social imagination” (p1). Haswell et al. (2009, p.970) define children with autism as having “defects in motor control, imitation and social function”. Autism has a range in terms of diagnosis, and can be classified as high- or low-functioning; it can be located within the broader field of spectrum disorders (Bolton et al., 1994).

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