Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Virtual reality assists children with autism



Virtual reality is used in helping children with autism too. In the movie “AVATAR” in 2009, James Cameron transformed his half paralysed body into an avatar. This gave him the ability to move freely and started a new life. Virtual reality may offer a similar opportunity for children with autism.


Previous treatment for autism

One of the common treatments of autism uses picture boards and other non-verbal communication tools to gently stimulate the children. It was called Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The follow-up study from the PECS showed a significant improvement in initiation and communication in children with autism. But the completion of the program did not improve the eye contact (Lerna, et al. 2014), the process was lengthy and less interesting for children.

Another programme, called isocial, was a partial virtual reality programme designed for children with autism more than 5 years ago. Isocial provided both verbal and non-verbal environment for the children, allowed them to communicate, learn and play through their avatars. The sense of their own position, space, avatars and others’ avatars showed positive increase.

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isocial, school of information science and learning technology, 2011


More involvement of virtual reality.

But virtual reality can do more than just providing an artificial social environment. These days it can automatically detect one’s gazing and respond on that. This becomes a physiological marker for social engagement. The monitor of one’s visual pattern, such as the duration of eye contact, pupil dilation and constriction, even blinking frequency, can give a more accurate feedback of one’s communication skills. This type of program is more interesting for children, and could improve their communication in less than 3 days, with just 2.5 hours each day (Lahiri et al. 2014). However, less improvement in communication was observed in the reality for these children.

Nonetheless, in 2016, virtual reality trainings for children with high functioning autism showed greater effects. These newly developed trainings not only improve the social interactions in children with autism, but also improved their emotional expression and executive function (Didehbani et al. 2016).


Why is it better to involve virtual reality?

Despite the numerous studies and inventions of virtual reality for autism, the treatment involves ING virtual reality has not reached the magical level of complete cure. But compare to what the treatment was like five or six years ago, recent virtual reality treatment showed much more potential. Virtual reality is very direct, as it is what can be seen or felt. It is easier than reading an article, then try to interpret the meaning of it. Therefore, virtual reality could be used with less interpretation. It is a great advantage for children or people with learning difficulties. Additionally, virtual reality can also provide feedback. The process of using the virtual reality becomes more like an interaction. This is another advantage compare to conventional method, involves either input or receive. I KNOW ENGLISH IS YOUR SECOND LANGUAGE BUT I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO SAY HERE – NEEDS BETTER EXPLANATION, ARTICULATION

The developing speed of technology has been fast. With a little bit more patience, it is very likely to see more advanced, effective and user-friendly virtual reality treatment for children with autism.



  • Didehbani, N allen, T Kandalaft, M Krawczyk, D Chapman, S 2016, “Virtual Reality Social Cognition Training for children with high functioning autism”, Computers In Human Behavior, Jan 2016, doi:1016/j.chb.2016.04.033
  • Lahiri, U Bekele, E Dohrmann, E Warren, Z Sarkar, N 2014 “A Physiologically Informed Virtual Reality Based Social Commnication System for Individuals with Autism”, J Autism Dev Disord 2015, vol 45, pp 919-931, doi:1007/s10803-014-2240-5
  • Lerna, A Esposito, D Conson, M Russo, L Massagli, A 2012, “Social-communicative effects of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) in Autism Spectrum Disorders”, International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, Sep 2012, vol 47, no. 5, pp 609-617, doi: 1111/j.1460-6984.2012.00172.x
  • Lerna, A Esposito, D Conson, M Massagli, A 2014, “Long-term effects of PECS on social-communicative skills of children with autism spectrum disorders: a follow-up study.” International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, July 2014, vol. 49, no. 4, pp 478-485, doi:



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This entry was posted on May 2, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 11am, Uncategorized.

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