Virtual reality (VR) training programmes may help individuals with autism to practice social situations without fear of consequence, says a study.
"Individuals with autism may become overwhelmed and anxious in social situations. The virtual reality training platform creates a safe place for participants to practice social situations without the intense fear of consequence," said Nyaz Didehbani, researcher at the University of Texas, in the US.
For the study, 30 young persons aged between seven to 16 with high-functioning autism were matched into groups of two.
The teams completed 10 one-hour sessions of virtual reality training over a five-week period.
Participants learned strategies and practiced social situations such as meeting a peer for the first time, confronting a bully, and inviting someone to a party.
Participants interacted with two clinicians through virtual avatars.
One clinician served as a coach, providing instructions and guidance, while the other was the conversational partner who played a classmate, bully, teacher or others, depending on the scenario in the video-game-like world.
According to the study, published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior, participants who completed the training demonstrated improved social cognition skills and reported better real-world relationships.
Neurocognitive testing showed significant gains in emotional recognition, understanding the perspective of others and the ability to problem solving.
"It’s exciting that we can observe changes in diverse domains including emotion recognition, making social attribution, and executive functions related to reasoning through this life-like intervention," said Daniel Krawczyk, Associate Professor at The University of Texas.