Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an especially difficult disorder to treat because symptoms manifest differently in each individual. The core diagnostic criteria are deficits in social communication and interaction and repetitive behavior patterns, interests and activities. IMI recognizes that virtual reality can be utilized in many ways to attempt to improve the prognosis of those diagnosed with autism. The Institute is actively applying for grants to study the use of virtual reality to teach children with autism social communication skills and activities of daily living.
By creating virtual worlds including classrooms, playgrounds, public transportation, air travel and other environments, IMI hopes to develop protocols for improving the quality of life for these children. By delivering evidence-based communication intervention methods, IMI is teaching functional communication strategies in immersive environments. This training tool enhances the generalization of skills from clinical and classroom settings to real world settings. Another advantage of virtual reality is that it can also be used to filter out stimuli, which aids in focusing attention in patients with autism and can deliver targeted interventions. The therapist can adjust the level of stimuli in the environment according to each patient, adding in more distractions as their performance improves.
Our first pilot study for an air travel training module concluded on November 13, 2018. After three training sessions in virtual reality, our team of researchers took 5 participants and their families to the San Diego International Airport to put this training to the test. All participants successfully navigated the air travel process and families provided valuable anecdotal excerpts on the efficacy and impact of the VR-based training program.