Wallace, S., Parsons, S., Westbury, A., White, K., White, K. and Bailey, A.
Sense of presence and atypical social judgments in immersive virtual reality: responses of adolescents with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Autism: International Journal of Research and Practice, 14, (3), . (doi:10.1177/1362361310363283).
Immersive virtual environments (IVEs) are potentially powerful educational resources but their application for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is under researched. This study aimed to answer two research questions: (1) do children with ASD experience IVEs in different ways to typically developing children given their cognitive, perceptual and sensory differences? and (2) can an IVE accurately simulate ecologically valid social situations? Ten children with ASD and 14 typically developing (TD) adolescents all aged 12-16 years experienced three different IVEs. They completed self-report questionnaires on their sense of ‘presence’ in the IVEs and rated ‘social attractiveness’ of a virtual character in socially desirable and undesirable scenarios. The children with ASD reported similar levels of presence to their TD peers and no negative sensory experiences. Although TD adolescents rated the socially desirable character as more socially attractive than the undesirable character, adolescents with ASD rated the two characters as equally socially attractive. These findings suggest that children with ASD do not experience IVEs in different ways to their TD counterparts and that the IVEs are realistic enough to simulate authentic social situations. This study paints a very encouraging picture for the potential uses of IVEs in assessing and educating individuals with ASD.
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