Navigation and exploration of an urban virtual environment by children with autism spectrum disorder compared to children with typical development
Authors:Fornasari L., Chittaro L., Ieronutti L., Cottini L., Dassi S., Cremaschi S., Molteni M., Fabbro F., Brambilla P.
Published in:Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2013, pp. 956–965.
Abstract:Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe disorder therefore the importance to implement targeted interventions in order to improve daily life of children with ASD. For this purpose, Virtual Environments (VEs), i.e. simulations of the real world based on 3D computer graphics, can offer a safe learning environment for them. This study analyzed navigation and exploration of an urban VE by children with ASD in comparison to children with a typical development. Sixteen children with ASD and 16 matched control ones were involved. After an initial training phase, children carried out two tasks: the first one was navigating in an unfamiliar urban environment which they could freely explore; the second one was navigating in the same environment but with the goal of finding specific target objects, as in a treasure hunt. In the first task, children with ASD spent significantly less time in active exploration and explored fewer zones than controls. No differences were found between the two groups in the second task. Our data indicate that, when freely exploring an unfamiliar VE, children with ASD explore less the environment compared to the control ones. By repeating the exploration with a game-like goal, no differences were found instead. Neuropsychological and motivational aspects should be considered in order to explain these findings.