Brief Report: A Pilot Study of the Use of a Virtual Reality Headset in Autism Populations


The application of virtual reality technologies (VRTs) for users with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been studied for decades. However, a gap remains in our understanding surrounding VRT head-mounted displays (HMDs). As newly designed HMDs have become commercially available (in this study the Oculus Rift™) the need to investigate newer devices is immediate. This study explored willingness, acceptance, sense of presence and immersion of ASD participants. Results revealed that all 29 participants (mean age = 32; 33 % with IQ < 70) were willing to wear the HMD. The majority of the participants reported an enjoyable experience, high levels of ‘presence’, and were likely to use HMDs again. IQ was found to be independent of the willingness to use HMDs and related VRT immersion experience.

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The authors wish to thank the staff of Peckham Inc. and their valuable time in working with the research team on this project. Their expertise, assistance and inputs were invaluable. We would also like to acknowledge the participants who were willing to try this technology and provide feedback; their time and inputs are truly appreciated. This study was funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) and a Digital Economy Sustainable Society Network+. Grant Number (EP/K003593/1).

Author Contributions

NN conceived of the study, participated in its design, interpreted the data, and drafted and critically revised the manuscript. CS and HK were instrumental in the design and acquisition of the data, analyzed and interpreted the data, and critically revised the manuscript. In addition, CS, HK and MJL worked closely with the community rehabilitation organization and key stakeholders therein. MJL participated in the acquisition of the data and critically revised the manuscript. CL and BT participated in the acquisition of the data, assisted in analyzing and interpreting the data, and readings/edits to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nigel Newbutt.

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All authors have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standard

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Research Committee.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Newbutt, N., Sung, C., Kuo, HJ. et al. Brief Report: A Pilot Study of the Use of a Virtual Reality Headset in Autism Populations. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 3166–3176 (2016).

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  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Virtual reality technology
  • Head-mounted display
  • Oculus Rift™