Exploring communication and representation of the self in a virtual world by young people with autism

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Title: Exploring communication and representation of the self in a virtual world by young people with autism
Authors: Newbutt, Nigel
Advisor: Parsons, Sarah
Permanent link: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/6795
Date: 2013
Abstract: One of the key benefits that a virtual world can provide to their users and community is the ability to communicate (via text and audio) and to express emotions (via gestures, facial expressions, etc.) on an interpersonal level. Virtual worlds provide contexts that allow users to interact in a variety of ways, and to express themselves through their individually designed avatars. Virtual environments and collaborative virtual environments have therefore been used in several studies with the aim of helping people with autism to interact, to communicate and to understand social skills. This thesis examines the work of others within the domain of virtual environments and autism, in an effort to understand debates and experiments that have led to some successful outcomes in helping people with autism to interact in a safe and secure environment. The conclusions of the research have been derived through a case study and by embedding a virtual world (Second Life) into a classroom for children on the autism spectrum. The case study group of autism participants consisted of eight 15 to 16 year olds, with 15 typically developing participants between 18 and 21 years of age. The case study lasted over eight sessions and three months, although the researcher was involved with the school for 12 months (to help with virtual world set up and design; designing in-world sessions). During the sessions social tasks were devised (e.g. visiting a coffee shop, fun fair rides, restaurant), with several opportunities for the participants to use the space as they desired.This thesis is offered as an original and substantial contribution to the fields of knowledge of assistive technology, autism and information and communication technology, focusing specifically on the role that a virtual world can play in a classroom for children on the autism spectrum. More specifically, this thesis explores social communication patterns in virtual worlds, visual representation of self through an avatar, and appropriateness of communication interactions in a virtual world used by young people on the autism spectrum. Visual representation of self is discussed by comparison to the typically developing group.Several main areas of innovation are detailed in the research: firstly, the finding that avatar representation for users with autism seems to be led by the body rather than the face; secondly, that the fidelity of the avatar seems to hold limited relevance for this user group; and thirdly, that communication in virtual worlds is expressed almost entirely though text chat and in a way that tends to lend itself to some inappropriate comments, although these tended to be far less than appropriate conversations recorded in the current study.The original and substantial contribution to knowledge of this thesis is an addition to our understanding of ways in which users with autism interact and represent themselves in a virtual world. Future scholars will be able to build on this, to consider the role that avatar customisation and design play in virtual-world interaction for users with autism. In addition, scholars in the fields of interaction will be able to take several findings associated with computer-mediated communication and apply to design related subjects; especially with emerging fields such as touch screen devices. Implications for avatar-mediated interfaces could also be informed by the findings presented in this thesis, especially the role of 3D and 2D avatars for users with autism. Moreover, this thesis presents original findings on preference for communication play in a virtual world that could impact on the role gestures, facial features and text communication in interactive interfaces.
Type of material: Doctoral Thesis
Publisher: University College Dublin. School of Education
Qualification Name: Ph.D.
Copyright (published version): 2013 the author
Keywords: AutismBehavioursCommunicationQualitative case studySocial SkillsVirtual World
Other versions: http://dissertations.umi.com/ucd:10014
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Education Theses

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