Do Virtual Reality Relaxation Experiences Alleviate Stress in Parents of Children with Autism? A Pilot Study

Brian Lovell*, Mark A. Wetherell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychotherapeutic interventions such as cognitive training and psychoeducation tend to be effective for alleviating stress in caregivers of children with autism. However, these interventions are often time consuming and take place outside the home, posing challenges for accessibility. Technology, especially virtual reality (VR) technology, can be used to support a range of digital interventions at home. VR headsets, when used to simulate relaxing experiences, have already been linked with stress relieving effects for some caregiving groups. This study builds on this, exploring whether VR simulated relaxing environments engender positive psychological changes for caregivers of children with autism. A total of 18 caregivers were exposed to VR simulated natural environments (e.g., beach, forest) for 15 min in a single session. State mood, captured with POMS, was measured at baseline and immediately post intervention. Perceived stress (PSS) was captured at baseline and, to explore intervention effectiveness, at three- and seven-days post intervention. POMS scores for tension, anger, depression, fatigue and confusion were lower, and scores for vigour higher, immediately post intervention. PSS scores at three-and seven-days post intervention, while comparable with one another, were lower compared with baseline. Interacting with simulated natural environments in VR seems effective for improving caregivers’ state mood and reducing their perceived stress for up to seven days. Future research should aim to consolidate and expand on these findings with larger samples and longer follow up periods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Early online date27 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Jun 2024

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