Parenting an autistic child comes with its own set of unique challenges, one of which is helping your child develop essential social skills. However, the advent of technology has opened up exciting opportunities for innovative and effective approaches to teaching social skills to autistic children. In this blog post, I will explore how Virtual Reality (VR) technology can be a game-changer for children with autism, enhancing their social development. I used the following scientific articles from last year Frolli et al., (2022) and Zhang et al., (2022) to shed light on the potential of VR in teaching social skills.
Before diving into the benefits of VR, it’s important to understand the specific needs of autistic children when it comes to social skills development. Many autistic children may struggle with interpreting social cues, maintaining eye contact, mismatch of body language, or understanding the nuances of interpersonal communication. This can lead to challenges in making friends and building relationships, which are crucial for their overall well-being and development.
Immersive Learning Environment: VR provides an immersive and controlled learning environment, which can be particularly beneficial for autistic children. It allows them to practice and refine their social skills in a safe and predictable setting. Research published by Zhang et al., (2022) highlights that VR can offer a unique way to create tailored social scenarios for autistic individuals, ensuring personalized learning experiences.
Customization and Repetition: VR programs can be customized to address the specific social challenges your child faces. These programs can recreate various social situations, allowing your child to practice social interactions repeatedly. The study cited in Frolli et al., (2022) discusses the advantages of customized VR programs in improving social skills.
Reducing Anxiety: Traditional social skill interventions may cause anxiety due to their unpredictable nature. VR, on the other hand, offers a controlled environment where children can gradually build confidence without the fear of real-world consequences. As a result, they can better manage social anxiety, as suggested in Zhang et al., (2022).
Realistic Feedback: VR programs can provide real-time feedback on social interactions, helping children understand where they may be making mistakes and guiding them toward more appropriate responses. This instantaneous feedback mechanism can be invaluable in their social skills development journey.
We still need to emphasize that this controlled environment will help them overcome some barriers, but that others are still unpredictable. For example, when we are practising engaging in conversations with other children in the playground, we will focus on the engaging part, which can be witnessed and assessed from the screen.
However, when we would take the child outside to a real playground, it might be that the child cannot engage, not because he/she does not know how, but because they experience sensory overload. The latter is something that we cannot foresee with VR.
Teaching social skills to children with autism can be challenging, but VR technology offers an exciting and effective solution. As a parent, you can explore VR-based programs that provide immersive learning environments, customization, and repetition, while reducing anxiety and offering realistic feedback. With the right guidance and resources, we can empower your child to develop essential social skills and navigate the world with confidence.
Now that you’re aware of the potential benefits of VR for your child, you might be wondering where to find such a program or practitioner.
I will start as of 2024, including the use of VR in my social skill sessions after having trained in the use of the VR technology. I will be using theVR technology in collaboration with project VOISS (https://projectvoiss.org/).
Zhang, M.; Ding, H.; Naumceska, M.; Zhang, Y. Virtual Reality Technology as an Educational and Intervention Tool for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Current Perspectives and Future Directions. Behav. Sci. 2022, 12, 138. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs12050138
Frolli, A.; Savarese, G.; Di Carmine, F.; Bosco, A.; Saviano, E.; Rega, A.; Carotenuto, M.; Ricci, M.C. Children on the Autism Spectrum and the Use of Virtual Reality for Supporting Social Skills. Children 2022, 9, 181. https://doi.org/ 10.3390/children9020181