Using Virtual Reality to Understand Inner Perceptual World of Autism
Researcher: Sarune Savickaite (PhD candidate)
About the Project
Autism, a common neuro-developmental condition, affects at least 1% of the UK population. Autism is partly characterized by sensory difficulties, such as over- or under-responsiveness to certain types of lighting and everyday noises, and an almost obsessive desire for particular types of sensory stimulation, known as “sensory seeking” behaviour. To date, most research on sensory aspects of autism has used parent/caregiver-reports, combined with a smaller amount of self-report data from those able to speak for themselves and further data from lab-based experiments. So far, however, despite these data providing us with some fascinating insights, we have yet to fully appreciate precisely what is going on in the “inner perceptual world” of autism, although it is clear that it is qualitatively different from what typical individuals experience.In this project we propose the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology to explore this inner perceptual world. VR technology has become much less bulky and much more affordable in recent years, and the availability of software has burgeoned. In our experiments we aim to explore perceptual worlds by asking people to illustrate their experiences using the powerful and compelling creative tools now available for use in VR environments, such as Tiltbrush (www.tiltbrush.com) . We will use a combination of quantitative analysis of participants’ responses to questionnaires with qualitative analysis of both their verbal descriptions (if available) and of their audio-visual creations to further understand the nature of their inner perceptual worlds. Furthermore, we will use our experience in objective behavioural experimentation to embed game-like tasks into the created environments to explore our participants’ perceptual limits more objectively. This collaborative project will further our understanding of the inner perceptual world of autism and result in the development of a suite of versatile VR software tools together with new techniques of creative expression for those with communication difficulties.