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How VR Can Help Autistic Adults

First Posted: Mar 25, 2019 09:34 PM EDT
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Autistic adults are a reality of our world that history has by and large ignored. Now that we have the means of diagnosing an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we find that a larger volume of the population is autistic. Autism Speaks notes that the CDC estimates as much as 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an ASD. When it comes to adults, there are many high-functioning autistic people that make up significant parts of the population. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, social phobia, etc. are such a wide demographic that many people think it's normal to feel that way since so many people they know around them do. For autistic adults, the world is a scary place, but thanks to advances in VR technology, the world might get just a little bit less scary.

VR Treatment of Social Anxiety

The scientific journal Autism in Adulthood mentions a study done where a handful of adults showed significant positive improvement after undertaking VR therapy. While it should be noted that the sample size of participants was small, the real-life improvements the majority of these participants noticed can be directly linked to how VR was utilized in this treatment. One of the most common treatments for social phobia is known as 'graded exposure theory, which the Society of Clinical Psychology defines as entering a situation that may cause discomfort, but not entering that situation completely so that the individual can be extracted if it becomes too much of a discomfort. This sort of therapy is ideal for use with immersive VR since the individual isn't actually present, they just experience the simulation of being present in a particular situation.

A Combination Treatment

Using the VRE technology called Blue Room, therapists can simulate a potentially anxiety-trigger for a patient and gently ease them into the situation so that they can cope with it while still being able to withdraw if necessary. Blue Room allows a doctor to aid the patient in virtually experiencing a situation which can be tailored to a particular user's needs. Graded exposure scenarios increase the level of anxiety slowly over time allowing the doctor and patient to work through the scenario at the patient's own pace. VR is only half of the overall treatment for this sort of disorder, as the patient must also learn how to manage their anxiety in real-world scenarios, should an anxiety causing situation arise. By combining VRE with cognitive-behavioral technology the patient can tie both of these feelings and responses together.

A Hope for Autistic Adults

Phobias are directly linked to autism, as EurekAlert reports and this is evident from the way some autistic adults experience the world. This treatment combination has quite a bit to go through before it is recognized and applied across the board, but the current results are promising. Because of the nature of autism and how it affects its sufferers, the glint of light that a procedure like this offers to autistic adults doesn't go unnoticed. Social phobia is but one of the numerous phobias that may manifest because of autism but by utilizing VR to overcome these fears doctors, no longer at risk of cancellation of license,  are embracing technology to improve the lives of their patients.,

The Potential for Much More

VR has made inroads in a lot of different fields ranging from gaming to business hiring practices. In each of these, it has provided a new way of doing things that is different but sometimes even more effective than the traditional methods that these fields espouse. In the case of medical technology, VRE can be used alongside existing techniques such as CBT in order to help autistic adults deal with the world around them in a healthy and beneficial way. Social phobia is a real and prevalent issue, and by using technology to help sufferers work through their issues and conquer their disorder, we are seeing the realization of technology being used to give back to society, the way it was meant to.

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