Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 449–466 | Cite as

The Use and Understanding of Virtual Environments by Adolescents with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Article

Abstract

The potential of virtual environments for teaching people with autism has been positively promoted in recent years. The present study aimed to systematically investigate this potential with 12 participants with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), each individually matched with comparison participants according to either verbal IQ or performance IQ, as well as gender and chronological age. Participants practised using a desktop ‘training’ virtual environment, before completing a number of tasks in a virtual café. We examined time spent completing tasks, errors made, basic understanding of the representational quality of virtual environments and the social appropriateness of performance. The use of the environments by the participants with ASDs was on a par with their PIQ-matched counterparts, and the majority of the group seemed to have a basic understanding of the virtual environment as a representation of reality. However, some participants in the ASD group were significantly more likely to be judged as bumping into, or walking between, other people in the virtual scene, compared to their paired matches. This tendency could not be explained by executive dysfunction or a general motor difficulty. This might be a sign that understanding personal space is impaired in autism. Virtual environments might offer a useful tool for social skills training, and this would be a valuable topic for future research.

Virtual environments social skills adolescents autistic spectrum disorder executive function 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.) (DSM-IV). Washington, D.C.: APA.Google Scholar
  2. Berger, H. J. C., van Spaendonck, K. P. M., Horstink, M. W. I. M., Buytenhuijs, E. L., Lammers, P. W. J. M., & Cools, A. R. (1993). Cognitive shifting as a predictor of progress in social understanding in high-functioning adolescents with autism: a prospective study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 341–359.Google Scholar
  3. Bernard-Opitz, V., Sriram, N., & Nakhoda-Sapuan, S. (2001). Enhancing social problem solving in children with autism and normal children through computer-assisted instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 377–384.Google Scholar
  4. Blade, R. A., & Padgett, M. L. (2001). Virtual environments standards and terminology. In K. Stanney (Ed.), Handbook of Virtual Environments: Design, Implementation and Applications. pp. 15–27. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, D. J., Neale, H. R., Cobb, S. V. G., & Reynolds, H. (1999). Development and evaluation of the virtual city. International Journal of Virtual Reality, 4, 28–41.Google Scholar
  6. Charman, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. (1992). Understanding drawings and beliefs: A further test of the metarepresentation theory of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 1105–1112.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, S. H. A., & Bernard-Opitz, V. (1993). Comparison of personal and computer-assisted instruction for children with autism. Mental Retardation, 31, 368–376.Google Scholar
  8. Clancy, H. (1996). Medical field prescribes virtual reality for rehabilitation therapy. Computer Reseller News, 698, 76.Google Scholar
  9. Cobb, S., Nichols, S. C., Ramsey, A., & Wilson, J. (1999). Virtual reality induced symptoms and effects (VRISE). Presence: teleoperators and virtual environments, 8, 169–186.Google Scholar
  10. Cromby, J. J., Standen, P. J., & Brown, D. J. (1996). The potentials of virtual environments in the education and training of people with learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 40, 489–501.Google Scholar
  11. Eynon, A. (1997). Computer Interaction: An update on the AVATAR program, Communication, Summer, 1997, p. 18.Google Scholar
  12. Fombonne, E., Siddons, F., Achard, S., Frith, U., & Happe, F. (1994). Adaptive behavior and theory of mind in autism.European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 3, 176–186.Google Scholar
  13. Freeman, B. J., Del'Homme, M., Guthrie, D., & Zhang, F. (1999). Vineland adaptive behavior scale scores as a function of age and initial IQ in 210 autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 379–384.Google Scholar
  14. Frith, U., Happe, F. G. E., & Siddons, F. (1994). Autism and theory of mind in everyday life. Social Development, 3, 108–123.Google Scholar
  15. Ghaziuddin, M., & Butler, E. (1998). Clumsiness in autism and Asperger syndrome: A further report. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 42, 43–48.Google Scholar
  16. Ghaziuddin, M., Butler, E., Tsai, L., & Ghaziuddin, N. (1994). Is clumsiness a marker for Asperger syndrome? Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 38, 519–527.Google Scholar
  17. Happe, F. G. E. (1995). The role of age and verbal ability in the Theory of Mind task performance of subjects with autism. Child Development, 66, 843–855.Google Scholar
  18. Heimann, M., Nelson, K., Tjus, T., & Gilberg, C. (1995). Increasing reading and communication skills in children with autism through an interactive multimedia computer program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25, 459–480.Google Scholar
  19. Hobson, R.P. (1993). Autism and the Development of Mind. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  20. Hughes, C., & Russell, J. (1993). Autistic children's difficulty with mental disengagement from an object: its implications for theories of autism. Developmental Psychology, 29, 498–510.Google Scholar
  21. Hughes, C., Russell, J., & Robbins, T. W. (1994). Evidence for executive dysfunction in autism. Neuropsychologia, 32, 477–492.Google Scholar
  22. Leekam, S. R., & Perner, J. (1991). Does the autistic child have a metarepresentational deficit? Cognition, 40, 203–218.Google Scholar
  23. Mitchell, P., Saltmarsh, R., & Russell, H. (1997). Overly literal interpretations of speech in autism: Understanding that messages arise from minds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 685–691.Google Scholar
  24. Moore, D. J. (1998). Computers and people with autism/asperger syndrome. Communication, 20–21.Google Scholar
  25. Moore, M., & Calvert, S. (2000). Brief report: Vocabulary acquisition for children with autism: teacher or computer instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 359–362.Google Scholar
  26. Moore, D. J., McGrath, P., & Thorpe, J. (2000). Computer aided learning for people with autism-a framework for research and development. Innovations in Education and Training International, 37, 218–228.Google Scholar
  27. Moore, D., & Taylor, J. (2000). Interactive multimedia systems for students with autism. Journal of Educational Media, 25, 169–177.Google Scholar
  28. Neale, H. (2001). Virtual environments in special needs education: Considering users in design. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Nottingham, U.K.Google Scholar
  29. Nichols, S. C. (1999). Virtual reality induced symptoms and effects (VRISE): Methodological and theoretical issues. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Nottingham, U.K.Google Scholar
  30. Ozonoff, S. (1995). Reliability and validity of the Wisconsin Card Sort Test in studies of autism. Neuropsychology, 9, 491–500.Google Scholar
  31. Ozonoff, S., Strayer, D. L., McMahon, W. M., & Filloux, F. (1994). Executive function abilities in autism and tourette syndrome: An information processing approach. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1015–1032.Google Scholar
  32. Parsons, S., Beardon, L., Neale, H. R., Reynard, G., Eastgate, R., Wilson, J. R., Cobb, S. V. G., Benford, S. D., Mitchell, P., & Hopkins, E. (2000). Development of social skills amongst adults with asperger's syndrome using virtual environments: the 'AS Interactive' project. In P. Sharkey, A. Cesarani, L. Pugnetti & A. Rizzo (Eds.) 3rd ICDVRAT, Sardinia Italy. University of Reading, pp. 163–170.Google Scholar
  33. Parsons, S., & Mitchell, P. (1999). What children with autism understand about thoughts and thought bubbles. Autism, 3, 17–38.Google Scholar
  34. Parsons, S., & Mitchell, P. (2002). The potential of virtual reality in social skills training for people with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 46, 430–443.Google Scholar
  35. Pennington, B. F., & Ozonoff, S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 51–87.Google Scholar
  36. Rothbaum, B. O., & Hodges, L. F. (1999). The use of virtual reality exposure in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Behavior Modification, 23, 507–525.Google Scholar
  37. Silver, M., & Oakes, P. (2001). Evaluation of a new computer intervention to teach people with autism or Asperger syndrome to recognize and predict emotions in others. Autism, 5, 299–316.Google Scholar
  38. Sparrevohn, R., & Howie, P. M. (1995). Theory of mind in children with autistic disorder: Evidence of developmental progression and the role of verbal ability. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36, 249–263.Google Scholar
  39. Strickland, D. (1996). A virtual reality application with autistic children. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 5, 319–329.Google Scholar
  40. Strickland, D., Marcus, L. M., Mesibov, G. B., & Hogan, K. (1996). Brief report: Two case studies using virtual reality as a learning tool for autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 26, 651–659.Google Scholar
  41. Swettenham, J. G. (1996). Can children with autism be taught to understand false belief using computers? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 157–165.Google Scholar
  42. Trepagnier, C. G. (1999). Virtual environments for the investigation and rehabilitation of cognitive and perceptual impairments. NeuroRehabilitation, 12, 63–72.Google Scholar
  43. Wechsler, D. (1999). Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI). The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  44. Wilson, B. A., Alderman, N., Burgess, P. W., Emslie, H. C., & Evans, J. J. (1986). Behavioral Assessment of the Dysexecutive Syndome. Thames Valley Test Company: Flempton, Bury St. Edmunds.Google Scholar
  45. Wilson, P. N., Foreman, N., & Stanton, D. (1998). A rejoinder. Disability and Rehabilitation, 20, 113–115.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamU.K.
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamU.K

Personalised recommendations