Can we improve the treatment of autism with technological immersion rooms and immersive virtual environments?


The ICT Social Health Foundation, the GURU Foundation, the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation and the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) have started a project to assess whether the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can improve the treatment and quality of life of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The project will be rolled out as a pilot test to evaluate the results of the incorporation of different technological solutions in two different spaces: a technological immersion room and an immersive virtual environment.

The result of the project will be the development of a methodological tool that allows the different teams of professionals to select which technologies may be most appropriate for their integration in the process of treating people with autism. The objective is for the technological solution to contribute to improving autonomy, cognitive stimulation, increased communication skills, and the incorporation of emotional and behavioural self-regulation strategies for people with grade II and III autism.

The pilot test will take place throughout 2024 at the facilities of the Sant Francesc d’Assis Foundation and the GURU Foundation in groups of a maximum of 12 users for each of the centres. The UOC eHealth Centre will participate in design and evaluation, providing methodological advice.

Technological immersion room

The technological immersion room will integrate the following technological solutions, aimed at improving the quality of life of people with ASD:

  • Tablets: they allow the intervention to be carried out in all developmental contexts through the same tool, and this can help to overcome the difficulties in generalising the learning presented by people with autism resulting from functioning marked by a weak central coherence. Tablets will be provided in learning environments with different technological solutions prescribed by professionals.
  • Interactive whiteboards: they offer a visual and interactive way of presenting information, which facilitates information visualisation, controlled interaction, communication support, and controlled sensory stimulation for people with ASD.
  • Stimulation seats: they are designed to provide some pressure, movement and tactile stimulation to the people using them. In the case of autism, they can help provide controlled sensory stimulation.
  • Construction and programming devices: they allow the acquisition or consolidation of the social housing necessary to participate in group activities. It is of utmost importance that these devices are programmed with a visual block programming code.

Immersive virtual environment

An immersive virtual environment is a space designed to provide an enveloping and multi-sensory experience to the user. This type of environment takes place in a room that is usually equipped with advanced immersive virtual reality (IVR) technology that combines 3D graphics, sound, motion tracking and display devices.

In this environment, it will be analysed whether the use of immersive rooms through virtual reality can improve emotional management work with previously controlled and determined sensory stimuli. The work of emotional management in the immersive room allows the control of stimuli and the regulation of responses by working on the interests and sensitivities of each participant.

About autism and the impact of ICT

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself during early childhood and accompanies the person throughout their life. There are different degrees of severity in terms of communication and social interaction, and of restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. At the same time, it can be associated with other disorders and can generate different intellectual levels. According to Federació Autisme Catalunya, 1 in every 100 people has this disorder, and in Catalonia it is estimated that nearly 77,000 people have it.

As mentioned in the previous points, the technological solutions proposed have a number of characteristics meaning they can become very useful tools to treat people with autism. Currently, however, there are no guidelines or methodology that allows professionals to know which solutions are the most appropriate according to the degree of severity of the patient, or what results can be obtained by using them.  

  • There are currently no guidelines or methodology that allow professionals to know which technological solutions are the most appropriate according to the degree of severity of the person with autism, or what results they can obtain with the use of them.