Master of Arts
Lee, Gabrielle T.
In recent years, both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology have shown great promise for the instruction of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by simulating real-world experiences in a safe and controlled environment. However, there are many reports of the failure of such research to include individuals with both ASD and Intellectual Disability (ID). The present scoping review consists of 20 studies which utilized VR/AR to teach various skills to children and youth with comorbid ASD and ID. Findings show that within the small number of eligible studies, a great deal of variation exists in essentially every intervention element (e.g., identification of ID, VR/AR equipment, target skills). Beyond increasing the quantity of VR/AR intervention research conducted on this population, the current review suggests the need for greater uniformity and consistency to improve research, practice, and the lives of those with ASD and ID who may benefit from such interventions.
Summary for Lay Audience
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by impairments in social communication and interaction as well as restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. However, although individuals with ASD may share core traits, there is a great deal of variation that exists within each individual (e.g., severity, communication, intelligence).
Advanced technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR; a three-dimensional virtual environment) and Augmented Reality (AR; a computer-generated image in an individual’s view of the real world) have shown great promise for the instruction of individuals with ASD. Such technology allows for repetitive practice of essential skills and the ability to learn from mistakes without the potential negative consequences of real-world decisions. However, the current research examining VR/AR for those with ASD fails to include participants with below average intellectual functioning, also referred to as Intellectual Disability (ID), despite the considerable known overlap between the two conditions.
The present work looked to review the research that used VR/AR technology to teach various skills to children and youth with both ASD and ID. This was done to understand themes and gaps in what has been done so far, as well as make recommendations for future improvement. Despite large advancements in the use of VR/AR to support those with ASD, only 20 studies were found to use the technology to teach those with both ASD and ID. Although the included studies show great promise, the review found a great deal of variation within the small number of available studies (e.g., identification of ID, VR/AR equipment used, target skills, duration), which limits claims that such technology is beneficial for those with ASD and ID at this time. The limited research and understanding of VR/AR interventions can be seen as a disservice to the field of research, the practice of psychology, and most importantly, the individuals with both ASD and ID who may be denied potentially beneficial services. Future work should look to increase the quality and quantity of research examining VR/AR for this population.
Erb, Emily M., "Using Virtual and Augmented Reality to Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum with Intellectual Disabilities: A Scoping Review" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9306.