Virtual Reality as Treatment Tool for Children with Autism

  • Michelle WangEmail author
  • Evdokia Anagnostou
Reference work entry


Virtual reality (VR), a computer-based simulation of the real world, provides a multisensory, multidimensional medium within which users are able to interact in real time. VR is gaining support as a potentially effective tool in autism treatment because of its ability to engage and motivate children with autism while offering certain therapeutic advantages. VR can merge existing approaches to autism treatment that have been traditionally difficult to integrate and can also provide the essential components of autism treatment that are well established in the field. Overall, the approach to using VR in autism treatment is primarily focused on simulating real work environments and offering opportunities to address specific challenges associated with this disorder. The majority of VR programs have been developed to improve the core, diagnostic impairments in autism, particularly social and communication behaviors; however, there are recent programs that focus on safety behaviors as well as underlying cognitive or sensory impairments. Early research exploring VR in autism treatment has revealed great potential for VR as a therapeutic tool; however, the problem of generalization, or skill transfer to new environments, still remains a major difficulty. Future technological developments and continued research in this area will likely focus on overcoming this barrier.


Virtual Reality Virtual Environment Fire Safety Virtual Reality System Autism Treatment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alsina-Jurnet I, Carvallo-Beciu C, Gutierrez-Maldonado J. Validity of virtual reality as a method of exposure in the treatment of test anxiety. Behav Res Methods. 2007;39:844–51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anton R, Opris D, Dobrean A, et al. Virtual reality in rehabilitation of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. IEEE. 2009.Google Scholar
  3. Ayres J, Tickle L. Hyper-responsitivity to touch and vestibular stimuli as a predictor of positive response to sensory integration procedures by autistic children. Am J Occup Ther. 1980;34:375–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bauminger N, Gal E, Goren-Bar D. In high-functioning children with autism through a co-located interface. 6th International Workshop on Social Intelligence Design; 2007 July 2-4; Trento, Italy.Google Scholar
  5. Bouchard S, Renaud P, Robillard G, et al. Applications of virtual reality in clinical psychology: illustrations with the treatment of anxiety disorders. Haptic virtual environments and their applications, IEEE International Workshop 2002 HAVE. 2002.Google Scholar
  6. Burdea G, Coiffet P. Virtual reality technology. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons; 2003.Google Scholar
  7. Cheng Y, Ye J. Exploring the social competence of students with autism spectrum conditions in a collaborative virtual learning environment – the pilot study. Comput Educ. 2010;54:1068–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cowan R, Allen K. Using naturalistic procedures to enhance learning in individuals with autism: a focus on generalized teaching within the school setting. Psychol Sch. 2007;44:701–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Herrera G, Alcantud F, Jordan R, et al. Development of symbolic play through the use of virtual reality tools in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Autism. 2008;12:143–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hill E. Evaluating the theory of executive dysfunction in autism. Dev Rev. 2004;24:189–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Howlin P. Practitioner review: psychological and educational treatments for autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1998;39:307–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hurth J, Shaw E, Izeman S, et al. Areas of agreement about effective practices among programs serving young children with autism spectrum disorders. Infants Young Child. 1999;12:17–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Iarocci G, McDonald J. Sensory integration and the perceptual experience of persons with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006;36:77–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Iovannone R, Dunlap G, Huber H, et al. Effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Focus Autism Other Dev Disabil. 2003;18:150–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Josman N, Ben-Chaim M, Friedrich H, et al. Effectiveness of virtual reality for teaching street-crossing skills to children and adolescents with autism. J Disabil Hum Dev, in press.Google Scholar
  16. Jung K-E, Lee H-J, Lee Y-S, et al. The application of a sensory integration treatment based on virtual reality-tangible interaction for children with autistic spectrum disorder. PsychNology J. 2006;4:145–59.Google Scholar
  17. Kim J, Kim K, Kim D, et al. Virtual environment training system for rehabilitation for stroke patients with unilateral neglect: crossing the virtual street. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007;10:7–15.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Leekam S, Nieto C, Libby S, et al. Describing the sensory abnormalities of children and adults with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2007;37:894–910.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Livingston S, Skelton R. Virtual environment navigation tasks and the assessment of cognitive deficits in individuals with brain injury. Behav Brain Res. 2007;185:21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lovaas O. Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1987;55:3–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Magliaro S, Lockee B, Burton J. Direct instruction revisited: a key model for instructional technology. Educ Technol Res Dev. 2005;53:41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Max M, Burke J. Virtual reality for autism communication and education with lessons for medical training simulators. Stud Health Technol Inf. 1997;39:46–53.Google Scholar
  23. Messier J, Adamovich S, Jack D, et al. Visuomotor learning in immersive 3D virtual reality in Parkinson’s disease and in aging. Exp Brain Res. 2007;179:457–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mineo B, Ziegler W, Gill S, et al. Engagement with electronic screen media among students with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disabil. 2009; 39:172–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mitchell P, Parsons S, Leonard A. Using virtual environments for teaching social understanding to 6 adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2007;37:589–600.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pares N, Masri P, van Wolferen G, et al. Achieving dialogue with children with severe autism in adaptive multisensory interaction: the : MEDIATE” project. IEEE Trans Vis Comput Graph. 2005;11:734–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Parsons S, Mitchell P. The potential of virtual reality in social skills training for people with autistic spectrum disorders. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2002;46:430–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rao P, Beidel D, Murray M. Social skills interventions for children with Asperger's syndrome or high-functioning autism: a review and recommendations. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008;38:353–61.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rizzo A, Buckwater J, Bowerly T, et al. The virtual classroom: a virtual reality environment for the assessment and rehabilitation of attention deficits. CyberPsychology Behav. 2000;3:483–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rizzo A, Kim G. A SWOT analysis of the field of virtual reality rehabilitation and therapy. Presence. 2005;14:119–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rogers S. Intervention for young children with autism: from research to practice. Infants Young Child. 1999;12:1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rose F, Brooks B, Attree E, et al. A preliminary investigation into the use of virtual environments in memory retraining after vascular brain injury: indications for future strategy? Disabil Rehabil. 1999;21:584–54.Google Scholar
  33. Rose F, Brooks B, Attree E. An exploratory investigation into the usability and usefulness of training people with learning disabilities in a virtual environment. Disabil Rehabil. 2002;24:627–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Self T, Rosalind RS, Weheba G, et al. A virtual reality approach to teaching safety skills to children with autism spectrum disorder. Top Lang Disord. 2007;27:242–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Strickland D, McAllister D, Coles CD, et al. An evolution of virtual reality training designs for children with autism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Top Lang Disord. 2007;27:226–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wallace S, Parsons S, Westbury A, et al. Sense of presence and atypical social judgments in immersive virtual environments. Autism. 2010;14:199–213.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang M, Reid D. The virtual reality-cognitive rehabilitation (VR-CR) approach for children with autism. J Cybertherapy Rehabil. 2009;2:95–102.Google Scholar
  38. Witmer B, Jerome C, Singer M. The factor structure of the presence questionnaire. Presence. 2005;14:298–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Office of Undergraduate Medical Education, Department of MedicineQueen‘s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsUniversity of Toronto, Bloorview Research InstituteTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations