Imagine a world where children with autism spectrum disorder can develop social communication skills through the use of virtual reality technology. It may sound like a futuristic dream, but recent research has shown that this is not only possible but also highly effective.
In his book Outliers, Gladwell (2008) suggested that success is not just about individual talent but also about the environment in which one grows up. This idea can be applied to the use of virtual reality in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Virtual reality provides a unique environment for children with ASD to develop their social skills, reduce anxiety and improve attention (Lindgren, Wismen, & Wiens, 2019). As Grant (2016) writes in his book Originals, it is important to think outside the box and embrace new technologies that can bring about positive change. Traditional methods of therapy for autism often rely on face-to-face interaction, but for some children, this can be overwhelming and hinder progress. Virtual reality provides a safe and controlled environment where children can practice social skills without the pressure of face-to-face interaction.
One study conducted at the University of Utah found that virtual reality exposure therapy was effective in reducing anxiety and improving social skills in children with ASD (Anderson, Law, Nadkarni, & Dunn, 2017). However, the researchers warned of the potential risks of using VR in clinical psychology, including cybersickness, anxiety, and triggering traumatic memories. Therefore, caution must be exercised in the use of this technology. The study used a virtual playground, which allowed children to experience a simulated environment in a safe and controlled way.
Another study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh found that virtual reality therapy was effective in reducing sensory overload and improving attention in children with ASD (Stichter et al., 2019). The study used a virtual classroom, which allowed children to experience a typical classroom environment in a less overwhelming way.
However, as with any new technology, there are limitations to the use of virtual reality in the treatment of ASD. Virtual reality technology can be expensive, which may limit its availability to some families. In addition, not all children with ASD are comfortable with wearing virtual reality headsets, which may limit the effectiveness of the therapy (Parsons & Cobb, 2011). As The Moth podcast suggests, it is important to listen to the voices of those who are affected by the use of new technologies and to continue to adapt and improve the technology to meet their needs (The Moth, n.d.).
In conclusion, virtual reality is a promising new technology that has the potential to bring about positive change in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. The use of virtual reality in exposure therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, improving social skills, and reducing sensory overload. However, it is important to continue to adapt and improve the technology to meet the needs of children with ASD and their families.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Anderson, P. L., Law, M., Nadkarni, R., & Dunn, L. B. (2017). The Use of Virtual Reality in Clinical Psychology: Benefits and Risks. Current Psychiatry Reports, 19(8), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0818-7
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company. Grant, A. (2016). Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Viking.
Lindgren, S., Wismen, C., & Wiens, S. (2019). Virtual reality and cognitive behavior therapy for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 48(3), 153–173. https://doi.org/10.1080/16506073.2018.1521762
Parsons, T. D., & Cobb, S. (2011). State of the art in virtual reality technology for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Research and Development, 48(5), 213–227. https://doi.org/10.1682/JRRD.2010.06.0105
Stichter, J. P., Herzog, M. J., Visovsky, K., Schmidt, C., Randolph, J., Schultz, T. R., & Gage, N. (2019). Efficacy of a virtual reality social communication intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(4), 1658–1668. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3831-4
The Moth. (n.d.). About Us. https://themoth.org/about-us