Virtual reality (VR) refers to any interactive, computer-simulated environment using 3D graphics, complex interface controls and multi-user capabilities; it recreates one’s physical presence in the actual, real or even imaginary world. Virtual reality augments lifelike experience of the ‘as if’ but ‘not quite’ of the real (sometimes, even mixed with the fantasy) world. Multi-modal VR technologies make it possible to engage multiple senses (that is, sight, touch, sound, and smell) for a broad range of applications, for examples, in entertainment, military, corporate, financial, scientific, especially, in medical and educational arenas . It has been claimed that VR brings a number of benefits, disadvantages, and other important changes in the life and activity of children who are mentally-challenged (that is, with low intelligence quotients, with Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, etc.). Research results point to inconclusive evidences regarding the costs versus benefits of using VR for the treatment of these children’s disabilities, as follows:
Various VR techniques are developed and used to affect the life skills and learning abilities (that is, cognition, interpersonal communication, and related behaviors) of mentally-challenged individuals. There are concerns significant concerns on the artificiality, simulation, interaction, network communication, immersion, and other relevant matters of VR’s efficacy for disability intervention programs. The time and energy spent in a virtual world varies based on each child’s intellectual disabilities, type of interventions used, and other contributory factors .
Virtual reality offers a glimpse of the future for handicapped youth as they are exposed to its many potential benefits. In VR setting, children are motivated to participate, engage and perform their social roles. Learning disability experts, technologists, researchers and educators use VR as an alternative intervention approach for the mentally-challenged children in overcoming their learning disabilities . Numerous studies point out to the various benefits of VR technologies to handicapped youth; still, further research is recommended because most research findings are dependent on how children with disabilities interpret and understand an environment in a VR. What is evident from research, for instance, is that there is a greater improvement in detecting “dyslexia, which is a phenomenon that is very difficult to explain” .
Various institutions (such as Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, etc.) continue to do research on the significance of virtual reality for groups of handicapped children. Entertainment and tutorial programs for children with learning disabilities are being conducted to reveal the positive and negative effects of VR. Additionally, some of companies developed software intended especially for children with impairments such as dyslexia, mental retardation, psychomotor difficulties, hearing difficulties, partial vision, etc. Results of these studies show, inconclusively, the benefits of using software for improved mental skills among individuals with disabilities or special needs. For instance, in connection with autistic children’s virtual experience and timing, there is a significant improvement in their explanations and judgments, which means that VR is to be used in teaching social skills . Even for children with Down syndrome, VR used in gaming technology improves their sensorimotor functioning; thus, VR is used in association with other time-tested practices in rehabilitative treatment programs ; hence, a promising message for disabled youth exposed in VR technologies.
Virtual laboratories, for example, are used to prevent potential risks inside a hazardous environment because of disabled students reduced manual capabilities and mobility. Lotan, Yalon-Chamovitz and Weiss (869) looked into the possible positive influence of VR-based exercises other than for growing up children. Statistically significant improvement in heart rates was noted. The results were not strong enough to be conclusive. Another study Stendal, Balandin and Molka-Danielsen (80) revealed that despite people with lifelong disability’s use of virtual worlds, there is not a significant increase in the use of VR technology for communication and interaction. This study suggests that more researches need to be done to obtain more supporting evidences for VR and its future in disability treatment programs.
Virtual reality programs and techniques in rehabilitative, assistive and therapeutic medicine for very young mentally-challenged individuals have raised ethical considerations. Hence, in the conduct of VR interventions and tutorials for this specific group, all parties concerned have to give informed consent prior to customizable personae representation of his identity with an avatar counselor. Moreover, VR’s potential for generating adverse side effects because of equipment failure, motion sickness, fatigue, and so on awaits for more related findings for its more successful use in the future. Because of the unintended changes that it might cause to children’s behavior and attitude – such as worsen difficulty in distinguishing between the actual reality and fantasy (for instance, among individuals with schizophrenic conditions), or elicit negative emotions (e.g., distress) immediately after subjection to a few (or even more) virtual experiences.
As final words, virtual reality technologies have promised much for so little in the previous years. Understandably, VR found its important role in children with learning disabilities to have better performance in their life skills. However, much is need to be done such that the virtual reality arena should engage more with the various disability issues. People in VR should look into assistive technologies for mentally-challenged learners. Further, the international VR and disability sectors should engage with one another. Sponsors advocating VR to overcome disability should consider how the international community will embrace it when it is not too expensive anymore. As the future of VR unfolds, the developments of more VR applications for exploring interventions, encouraging independent life skills, promoting cognitive and motor skills, and other disability countermeasures will expose even average computer users to the diverse benefits and adverse effects of simulated ‘realities.’