Virtual reality environment to asses and support social gaze in children on the autism spectrum (VirtualGaze)

Research team:

PI (Principal Investigator): Soile Loukusa, PhD, docent, speech and language therapist, Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu

Co-PI: Katja Dindar, PhD, psychologist, Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu

Researcher: PhD candidate, MA, Msc Aija Kotila, Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu

Main collaborators:

Satu Saalasti, PhD; Minna Laakso, Professor; Satu Paavola, PhD cand., Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki

Matti Lehtihalmes, Prof. (emeritus); PhD cand. Emilia Malinen, Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu

Other:

the Clinic of Child Psychiatry and Department of Diagnostic Radiology, the University of Oulu and the Oulu University Hospital; the Unit of Child Neurology, the Helsinki University Hospital; the Department of Psychology, the University of Tampere; the School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, the University of Eastern Finland; Murdoch University, Australia

Public abstract:

Children on the autism spectrum have challenges in reciprocal social interaction, such as eye-contact and following other people’s gaze direction. In this project, we design a virtual reality (VR) assessment and intervention protocol for social gaze using a participatory approach. We assess social gaze in children on the autism spectrum and typically developing children using multilevel data (eye-tracking, physiological, neural and behavioural) and carry out a VR intervention to support contextually relevant use of gaze. The research is conducted at the Research Unit of Logopedics in multidisciplinary collaboration with researchers and Peili Vision Oy. The development of novel research-based assessment methods provides information necessary for understanding children’s social gaze in a sensitive way. The project increases the knowledge on benefits of digitalization by studying VR as an ecological bridge for children to practise different processes of social gaze.