International Meeting for Autism Research: Collaboration and Perspective-Taking In Collaborative Virtual Environments by Young People with Autism Spectrum Conditions: A Pilot Study

Collaboration and Perspective-Taking In Collaborative Virtual Environments by Young People with Autism Spectrum Conditions: A Pilot Study

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
S. Garib-Penna1,2 and S. Parsons1,2, (1)School of Education, University of Birmingham, Birmingham , United Kingdom, (2)School of Education, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
Background:  : Collaborating with others requires the ability to communicate as well as to understand and interpret their perspectives. However, these abilities are well established core difficulties for people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC). Attempts have been made to facilitate understanding in these domains including explicit teaching of cognitive concepts using Theory of Mind tasks, involving video, pictures and real-world role play of skills. Such studies report varying degrees of success, with generalisability of understanding to real-world behaviours and contexts proving difficult to achieve.

Objectives:  This pilot study aimed to evaluate the potential of training young people with ASC on collaboration skills, including communication and perspective-taking, with the use of Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs). These virtual reality technologies allow multiple users to occupy the same virtual space, enabling them to adopt different viewpoints within a task.

Methods:  Our ‘Block Party’ task utilised this affordance to encourage children to work together to achieve a shared goal: to collaboratively build a tower out of coloured blocks. Each child had a different target colour pattern to achieve and therefore had to communicate with each other in order to jointly select a block with the colour combination which suited both their needs from a selection of blocks. To do this they needed to understand that the other person’s perspective was different to their own and communicate effectively with their partner about which block they needed to choose. Three pairs of high functioning young people with ASC, and four pairs of typically developing (TD) peers took part. Background measures of language and general cognitive ability were taken and the Social Communication Questionnaire administered to parents of the ASC group.

Results:  Performance on the Block Party task was videotaped and a preliminary analysis for quality and nature of the collaboration conducted. The analyses revealed that both diagnostic groups were generally able to cope with the task demands. The analyses also revealed qualitative differences in the way the ASC group interacted to achieve collaboration in comparison to TD pairs of children. Initial observations indicated that young people with ASC were more likely to try to complete the task without communicating with their partner and interacted with each other less spontaneously. More detailed results and their implications will be presented and discussed at this conference. These will include categorisation of types of collaboration as well as the acceptability and usability of the task within the CVE. We will also comment on how children’s understanding requires scaffolding within the game, either through the facilitation of computer-assisted mediation by a virtual character or via a human mediator.

Conclusions:  Initial observations would indicate that the Block Party CVE task has potential for practicing ASC children’s communication and perspective-taking skills, as preliminary video-observations would indicate that they were less likely to communicate with their peers to complete the task collaboratively. In the next phase of the project, the Block Party task will be implemented by teachers in schools as part of a social competence training intervention over a 10 week period.

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