Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Counselor Education


Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundations

Major Professor

Dr. Roxane L. Dufrene

Second Advisor

Dr. Ann M. O'Hanlon

Third Advisor

Dr. Zarus E. Watson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Bianca M. Puglia


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) think and understand social contexts primarily from a visual stand point. Feelings of being present in their social environment are a key component to their development (Strickland, Marcus, Mesibov, & Hogan, 1996). A virtual reality environment (VRE) can provide a therapeutic setting for children with ASD to learn social skills (Ehrlich & Munger, 2012). In the present research, a pilot study was used to assess the validity of a Second Life VRE developed by the researcher (Markopoulos, 2016b) by comparing the VRE to a real life film by The National Autistic Society (2016) in the United Kingdom. Feedback from the pilot study was used to make revisions to the VRE. The validated virtual reality therapy environment (VRTE) was used in the main research study. Twenty-eight Louisiana mental health practitioners’ perceptions of the VRTE were assessed using two random order conditions. Condition A required participation in the VRTE twice, first using a laptop computer only and then using the laptop with the new 2016 Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD, Oculus VR, LLC, 2016). Condition B required participation in the VRTE twice, first using a laptop with the new 2016 Oculus Rift HMD and then using a Laptop alone. Four out of eight subscales from the Temple Presence Inventory (TPI) (Lombard, Weinstein, & Ditton, 2011) were used to assess practitioners’ perceptions of presence in the VRTE. Results of a repeated-measures MANOVA showed that the order of the conditions were not significantly different. Additionally, participants’ TPI total and subscales scores were significantly higher when using the HMD than when using the Laptop, as well as their likelihood of using the HMD with children diagnosed with ASD than using the Laptop. All of the correlations for participants’ age and experience with technology were insignificant except for the subscale III, engagement was significant for participants’ age.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder, therapy, virtual reality environment, head-mounted display, temple presence inventory, presence


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