‘In someone else’s shoes’: How virtual reality is altering autism research, treatment

vr
Image credit: Maryam Scoble

For more than two decades, scientists have experimented with [virtual reality] to set up controlled scenarios to study autistic traits. At the same time, some teams have used VR to create role-playing environments for practicing social skills. Increasingly, however, people with autism are using VR to convey their own experiences, both to raise awareness of the condition and to capture the cognitive and perceptual differences that characterize it.

Proponents of VR argue that no other medium comes as close to putting you in someone else’s shoes. “Having a perceptual experience — that’s something we haven’t been able to do without VR,” says Albert “Skip” Rizzo, research professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a pioneer of using VR in psychiatry.

Related article:  Why genetic testing for autism cannot offer definitive answers

Autism therapists and researchers started to use VR in the mid-1990s, not long after headsets became widely available to consumers and other forms of immersion, such as first-person shooter games, became popular. Researchers often deployed the technology to create virtual environments to help autistic people rehearse stressful encounters. For instance, Rizzo’s team built a virtual job-interview training program. In a study published last year, they recruited adults with autism or other conditions for a training regimen involving interviewers who ranged from gentle to aggressive. Rizzo says the participants with autism significantly improved in their interviewing skills, as rated by job counselors.

Read full, original post: How virtual reality is transforming autism studies

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