Authors: Haylie L. Miller and Nicoleta L. Bugnariu
Different levels of immersion in Virtual environments (VEs) for delivering social skills interventions to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the influence of this levels of immersion on the efficacy of VEs as a tool for assessing and teaching social skills.
- To critically evaluate the level of immersion used in previous studies (low, moderate, and high immersion);
- To highlight unanswered questions about the generalizability of skills learned in the virtual world, the level of immersion required to successfully teach social skills, and the variability in treatment response across individuals with ASD with differing symptom profiles; and
- To propose a possible theoretical framework for examining the level of immersion used in a study.
This research groups studies into low-, moderate-, and high-immersion categories and examins them from five aspects of immersion including identifying emotions or intentions, conversation, gesturing, socially appropriate behaviours and cooperation.
Low-immersion VEs are sufficient to detect some differences in social performance. Exceptions may be due to participant characteristics, including the tendency to be immersed, attention, and symptom severity. However, the literature on intervention studies is considerably less straightforward. In one instance, low-immersion VEs produced improvement in social skills. However, while some moderate-immersion VEs have produced improvements, others have not.
The current body of work suggests that VEs may offer an appropriate avenue for delivery of social skills therapies for some individuals with ASD. The potential advantage to using VEs in place of more traditional measures or intervention approaches lies in the ability to generate more ecologically valid tasks and to teach and assess skills under conditions that more closely mimic the real world. Additional research is needed to determine whether this approach is equivalent to traditional face-to-face intervention.