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Virtual Reality May Ease Fears in Autistic Youth

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on August 25, 2014


Background: Anxiety is one of the most common conditions to occur alongside Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children and adolescents with the disorder. The condition can manifest in the form of specific phobias, such as fear of riding in cars or fear of birds. These phobias can interfere with daily life and exacerbate the core symptoms of ASD.


What’s New: On July 2, 2014, the digital journal PLOS ONE published a paper evaluating an emerging technique to address anxiety in young people with ASD. For the study, nine boys aged 7 to 13 underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—an existing treatment approach shown to reduce anxiety associated with ASD—together with five sessions in a proprietary virtual reality environment (VRE). Anxiety questionnaires administered periodically in the 16 months following the treatment revealed that eight of the nine participants were newly able to tackle their specific phobias, and four overcame them completely.


Why it’s important: This study lends support to previous findings that CBT can be effective in reducing anxiety in young people with ASD. Importantly, a combination therapy of CBT and VRE could be more effective than a single therapy. Future research using a control group could validate CBT in conjunction with VRE as an effective therapy to address specific phobias.

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