Simmons Lab: Autism and VR

Simmons Lab, run by Dr David Simmons and ESRC-funded PhD students, is a research lab focusing on Autism and the perceptual differences associated with it. The Virtual Reality experiments are carried out in a lab in the School of Humanities, which is managed by Dr Neil McDonnell. Simmons Lab collaborates with Immersive Experiences Lab, Glasgow Autism Research Group, Glasgow School of Art and industrial partner Sublime Digital, to explore Virtual Reality, Perception, Autism and Vision.

Objectives of the research

The research is interested in the sensory aspects of Autism and sensory overload. Autism, a common neuro-developmental condition, affects at least 1% of the UK population. Autism is partly characterized by sensory difficulties, such as over- or under-responsiveness to certain types of lighting and everyday noises, and an almost obsessive desire for particular types of sensory stimulation, known as “sensory seeking”, behaviour.  

Although previous research on sensory aspects of autism have provided fascinating insights, the extent of the “inner perceptual world” of autism is yet to be fully explored. However, it is clear that the sensory aspects of autism are qualitatively different from what typical individuals experience. The Simmons Lab and associated Autism research will use Virtual Reality (VR) to explore this inner perceptual world.

The main goal of the research is to enable autistic individuals to draw in virtual reality and help them express their perceptual experiences visually.

The impact

This project is ground-breaking in that previous research has yet to fully understand the “inner perceptual world” of autism. Simmons Lab will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of participants’ verbal descriptions of their audio-visual creations to understand the nature of autism and perception. 

This research hopes to provide a unique and innovative understanding of autism and perception, whilst assisting those with autism to express their perceptual experiences visually. The team’s experience in objective behavioural experimentation will be used to embed game-like tasks into the created environments to explore the participants’ perceptual limits more objectively.

This collaborative project will further our understanding of the inner perceptual world of autism and result in the development of a suite of versatile VR software tools together with new techniques of creative expression for those with communication difficulties.