Applications of virtual reality (VR) in autism research: current trends and taxonomy of definitions

Savickaite, Sarune, Husselman, Tammy-Ann orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-3206-5496, Taylor, Rebecca, Millington, Elliot, Hayashibara, Emma and Arthur, Tom (2022) Applications of virtual reality (VR) in autism research: current trends and taxonomy of definitions. Journal of Enabling Technologies . ISSN 2398-6263

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Recent work could further improve the use of VR technology by advocating the use of psychological theories in task design and highlighting certain properties of VR configurations and human – VR interactions. The variety of VR technology used in the trials prevents us from establishing a systematic relationship between the technology type and its effectiveness. As such, more research is needed to study this link, and our piece is an attempt to shed a spotlight on the issue.

To explore recent developments in the field, the authors followed the procedures of scoping review by Savickaite et al. (2022) and included publications from 2021 to 2022.

In this updated analysis, it was clear that the research themes emerging over the last two years were similar to those identified previously. Social training and intervention work still dominates the research area, in spite of recent calls from the autism community to broaden the scientific understanding of neurodivergent experiences and daily living behaviours. Although, autism is often characterised by difficulties with social interactions, it is just one part of the presentation. Sensory differences, motor difficulties and repetitive behaviours are also important facets of the condition, as well as various wider aspects of health, wellbeing and quality of life. However, many of these topics appear to be understudied in research on VR applications for autism.

VR stands out from other representational technologies because of its immersion, presence and interactivity and has grown into its own niche. The question of what constitutes a truly immersive experience has resurfaced. We can no longer deny that VR has established itself in autism research. As the number of studies continues to grow, it is a perfect time to reconsider and update our notion of definitions of immersion and its reliance on hardware.

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