According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 54 US children is diagnosed on the spectrum. In most cases, and if you are fortunate, you are diagnosed in early childhood.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be a challenge in multiple ways, no matter the age. It ranges from lengthy and strenuous diagnosis protocols, treatment, social acceptance, and every day "noise" that affects people with ASD on every level.
Virtual Reality for ASD
Recent technology advancements, such as leveraging machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and many other methods, allow medical institutions to address these issues with more accessible and faster diagnostics, as well as in-home therapeutic approaches designed for people of all ages.
Did you know that a survey conducted shows that immersive VR can help reduce anxiety in kids with autism spectrum disorder? The result of therapy using virtual reality helped almost 45% of children remain free from their phobias and fears which continued even 6 months after treatment. With this as a contributing factor, therapists, teachers, counselors, and parents are more inclined to include this in their therapy regime. They now feel more comfortable embracing virtual reality aiding people with autism in better communication, interaction, and critical social preceptors with other people and the world around them.
From training and education to treatment and assimilation, various VR technologies and apps assist across a wide range of experiences to help people better serve those with ASD. For example, virtual reality gaming is a promising application that allows people to experience a dynamic 3D environment and even interact with it.
And as a means of education and communication, technology and devices, such as the iPad, have led parents, teachers, and autism support teams to the doorstep of VR and are playing a pivotal role in teaching and treating people with ASD.
Why is VR useful in treating and educating people with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
People on the spectrum are not inclined to learn social skills and pick up on social cues at the same rate as their peers. Therefore, you can use VR to create controlled and safe training environments to cultivate those skills. It is encouraging to see that using VR to develop different role-playing environments to practice social skills or alleviate fears and phobias has proven to be quite successful.
VR Therapy for Autism
Virtual reality is not just for exercising or playing challenging and interactive rhythm games, such as Beat Saber. VR is being used to build reciprocal communication and social skills, such as expressing suitable responses and bodily and facial cues, which are challenging for people on the spectrum.
A small research was conducted by Dr. Daniel Yang where adults used a VR headset along with a computer program that tracked their facial cues and expressions, projecting them on a virtual avatar.
Note that seeing this projection helped study participants practice their own bodily and facial cues with direction and help from a specialized therapist. It also helped reinforce looking for other people's facial and body cues.
Another study provided a comprehensive and detailed meta-analysis for evaluating the efficacy of VR on the training and rehabilitation of people diagnosed with ASD. According to the results of 33 cases reviewed for this study, people undergoing virtual reality training saw considerable improvements.
And the results of the analysis of various skills showed diverse effectiveness. For example, subjects exhibited the most remarkable improvement in daily living skills and moderate improvement in other skills, such as cognitive skills, recognition skills, and emotion regulation.
According to Forbes, virtual reality technology can even help non-autistic individuals better understand and appreciate the reality of living with autism. Also, it may clear up a few misconceptions and myths about the condition.
The VR industry has a significant role in shifting how therapists, specialists, doctors, parents, and support staff use technology to help adults and children with autism succeed in life socially and learn differently.
However, even with the rapid and remarkable development of virtual reality tech and apps for autism in the last couple of years, we are only starting to scratch the surface of VR's immense potential for helping individuals with ASD.