Is Participation in Family Role-Play in Second Life Associated with Improved Social and Emotional Support and Well-Being Among Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Background: Virtual worlds, such as Second Life (SL), may provide a venue to overcome social barriers and allow for the formation of meaningful relationships for some adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) that have difficulty achieving these relationships in offline settings.
Objectives: This mixed methods study examines whether participation in SL among adults with ASD is associated with positive perceptions of emotional support and wellbeing.
Methods: A total of 91 participants were included in the study: 13 had ASD and used SL, 12 had ASD and did not use SL, 44 did not have ASD and were SL users, and 22 did not have ASD and did not use SL. Questionnaires and interviews with participants were used to collect the data.
Results: Individuals with ASD who participated in SL rated themselves significantly higher on measures of social fun, emotional support, and flourishing in SL than they did for real life (RL). In contrast, individuals with ASD who participated in SL reported lower social fun in RL than those who did not participate in SL.
Conclusions: While the results of the questionnaire data suggest that individuals who are attracted to SL report poorer social and emotional support and well-being offline, interviews with SL users revealed a more complex story. Participants described that the quality of social and emotional support in online situations is similar to social support received in SL among individuals without ASD. In addition participants described learning communication skills in SL that they were later able to apply to RL. This suggests that SL may create an environment where adults with and without ASD can perform equally.