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The acceptance, challenges, and future applications of wearable technology and virtual reality to support people with autism spectrum disorders

Newbutt, Nigel; Sung, Connie; Kuo, Hung Jen; Leahy, Michael J


Nigel Newbutt
Senior Lecturer in Digital Education

Connie Sung

Hung Jen Kuo

Michael J Leahy


A Brooks

S Brahnam

B Kapralos

J Lakhmi


This chapter provides a brief review of how virtual reality technologies (VRTs) have been used within research-contexts to support people on the autism spectrum. One area of innovation and research that has evolved since the mid-1990s to aid people with an ASD is that of the use of virtual reality technology (VRT). Research has focused on helping develop personal, social, functional, and pre- vocational/vocational skills. This chapter will provide a review of literature in this field in addition to distilling the key affordances, issues and challenges identified in this evolving area of research. This review will focus on the potentially useful application of VRTs to train and support people with an ASD in developing life-skills (i.e., social skills, job skills, independent living skills) and where there has been successful implementation in applied contexts. The chapter will then describe a project the authors undertook, that sought to ask questions surrounding the role of head-mounted displays and the impact these might have for this population. As more affordable and accessible wearable devices (e.g., Oculus Rift™) are commercially available, we suggest that questions surrounding the acceptability and practicality quickly need to be addressed if we are to develop a sustainable line of inquiry surrounding HMDs and VRTs for this specific population. Therefore this chapter will report, in a rich, descriptive and illustrative manner, the process we engaged to work with a range of participants with ASD (here range refers to low-high functioning ASD with a wide range of IQ) to assess and measure the acceptability of, and experiences within, HMD VRTs (immersion, presence, ecological validity, and any negative effects). We will discuss, in some detail, the ethical approaches the research team took in using HMDs with this population (as this is sometimes a neglected aspect of this type of research), and suggest some guidance for future scholars/practitioners working in this field. Finally, based on our preliminary study, this chapter will conclude with how we think HMDs and VRTs might be used in the future to help enable ASD populations address some of the challenges faced on a daily basis. Here we are primarily concerned with the challenges, but also the contexts in which this technology can be applied, with specific focus on moving research from labs to real-life (and potentially beneficial) contexts.


Newbutt, N., Sung, C., Kuo, H. J., & Leahy, M. J. (2017). The acceptance, challenges, and future applications of wearable technology and virtual reality to support people with autism spectrum disorders. In B. Kapralos, J. Lakhmi, S. Brahnam, & A. Brooks (Eds.), Recent Advances in Technologies for Inclusive Well-Being, 221-241. Springer International Publishing.

Publication Date Feb 1, 2017
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 221-241
Book Title Recent Advances in Technologies for Inclusive Well-Being
ISBN 9783319498775
Keywords acceptance, challenges, future applications, wearable technology, virtual reality, support, people, autism spectrum disorders
Publisher URL