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- PublicationLet Us Converse Virtually! Conversation Skills Training through Virtual RealityBACKGROUND: People with ASD typically have difficulties with communication and socialization skills, and they may exhibit repetitive behaviours or have restricted interests (Fombonne, 2005; Levy & Perry, 2011; Rivet & Matson, 2011; Suzuki 2011). Such difficulties have been shown to be linked to the development of problem behaviours, and thus people with ASD do struggle to keep or find employment, become part of the community, and they overall report low quality of life ratings (National Research Council 2001). Assistive technology’s role for people with ASD is to primarily improve their quality of life and help them in their transition from education and training to independent living. The Virtual Reality (VR) technology first appeared in the 1960s, but was neither a commercial success nor was it very engaging. VR has re-emerged in recent years as a more affordable, user friendly platform, that has reached a point where it can imitate the real world (Freina & Ott, 2015). Moreover, VR can assist in making conversations easy, structured and inclusive (Newbutt, 2013). OBJECTIVES: To examine the effectiveness of a training intervention on conversation skills for people with ASD, through a Virtual World (VW) environment (using a laptop which is a non-immersive delivery method). METHODS: The paper will initially describe the VW development phases, where a Participatory Design approach was adopted. This will be followed by a description of the intervention process. The participants initially interact with the researcher physically (Phase 1) and then virtually (Phase 2) to determine whether virtual reality on itself has a positive impact. Phase 3 involves instruction (PowerPoint presentations, videos, and quizzes) in the virtual environment followed by the same interaction to determine whether instruction in virtual reality is beneficial. Phase 4 will be a repeat of Phase 1 to determine whether the participants bring any skill acquisition from the virtual to the real world. The intervention is a Multiple Baseline Design (MBD) with 3 participants and consists of at most 17 sessions over a 7 to 9-week period. RESULTS: The user feedback on the VW development has revealed ways we can change the VW to make it more appealing, acceptable, and user-friendly to the participants. The users offered several suggestions regarding: the content of instructional material (e.g., conclude each PowerPoint presentation with a quiz), organization of content (e.g., better organise video playlist) and visual presentation of content (e.g., enlarge video screens and increase text font). The paper will also present the analysis of the ongoing MBD, based on an adapted assessment tool from the Conversation Skills Rating Scale . A comparison of the results between phase 1 an 4 will determine the effectiveness of the training, if the baseline is stable. CONCLUSIONS: The user feedback received to date suggests that VR has a significant role to play in training for people with ASD and that immersive VR (head mounted displays) could possibly be even more effective. Overall the feedback was constructive and will result in a better product for a follow-up study in 2018.
- PublicationConversation skill training in Virtual Reality: a study with people with communication deficitVirtual Reality has been around since the 1960s (Sensorama1, an immersive VR), but it never became commercially viable. A recent re-emergence of the technology was met with scepticism by industry leaders (Cronin, 2015). However, with the help of technological advances that have made it more affordable to the public, and because VR has reached a point where it can imitate the real world (Freina & Ott, 2015), it seems that this time VR is not only viable, but rather thriving and finding applications in all sorts of areas (including education and training). Virtual World environments are customizable spaces, where people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Intellectual Disabilities (IDs) can feel safe and calm and through which training can be delivered remotely from anywhere and to anyone and participants can undertake that training at their own pace in order to achieve goals (Freina & Ott, 2015). This gives users more control over the process, which in turn allows them to have more engaging in-world experiences (de Freitas Rebolledo‐Mendez Liarokapis Magoulas & Poulovassilis, 2010). Virtual Reality, especially in this recent advent has been very realistic to the point that you can interact with others virtually (Childs, 2010; Yee Bailenson & Ducheneaut, 2009). One of VRs main affordances is that it makes conversations easy, structured and inclusive (Newbutt, 2013). The literature therefore is suggesting that carrying out training in a Virtual World appears to be meeting the needs of people with ASD and ID, and can help them acquire the necessary skills for transition into independent living. However, limited research has been thus far conducted with that population using VR technology (Freina & Ott, 2015) and furthermore, there is limited literature on their social skill deficits (Matson Hattier & Turygin, 2012). This paper will give a brief history of Virtual Reality and its affordances, and then describe the Virtual Learning for people with ASD (VL4ASD) project, which aims to create a training intervention on conversation skills for people on the autistic spectrum with possible co-morbid ID. The paper will present results from the multiple baseline design approach employed by the project with three participants.