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Investigating the pathogenesis of repetitive behaviours in autism using a fully immersive virtual reality environment.

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Dr. Faubert and colleagues will employ fully immersive virtual reality (FIVR) technology to investigate the cause and potential treatments of repetitive behaviors in autism. Based on previous studies, it is possible that autistic individuals confronted with complex information will adopt behavioral strategies to reduce the amount of detailed information in a given scene in an attempt to limit its complexity. This can be achieved through eccentric or lateral glancing in individuals with autism – a behavior which is maintained to regulate the complexity of the visual environment and reduce discomfort. By systematically manipulating the complexity of the virtual environment using FIVR technology while measuring heart rate and skin conductance to monitor perceptual changes, the mechanism by which lateral glancing occurs can be better defined. If an association between the complexity of the perceived environment and physiological response is demonstrated, this suggests that pathogenesis of repetitive behaviors in autism may be the result of atypical information processing in autism. Significance: This group will employ a truly innovative approach and technique to assess the pathogenesis of stereotyped behavior in autism: fully immersive virtual reality (FIVR) technology. This approach is unique in that it allows for the sensory-behavioral interactions to be assessed in a non-invasive manner and in real-time. This is one of the few fully functional systems in North America that is exclusively used for investigating human behavior; and brings together scientists from complementary areas of research to use FIVR to study autism.