This study examined the phenomenon of online gaming to describe the social interactions of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as they socialize and develop relationships within virtual environments. This research built upon previous literature related to the identification of alternate modes of developing social skills and interpersonal relationships of adolescents with ASD by exploring the social implications of virtual environments. Young adults with autism experience grim outcomes such as low enrollment in postsecondary education, low wages, few living independently, and few maintaining full time employment as a result of poor social skills. Given the availability of online mediums such as massively multiplayer online role playing games, discussion forums, chat rooms, and other social media, individuals with ASD have opportunities to interact without the constraints of face-to-face settings. A phenomenological study was employed using multi-sourced data. Findings yielded 15 initial codes that were developed into five main themes. Findings support a recognition and reciprocation of emotions, friendship development, and role identification. Additionally, the findings support skills required to be successful in postsecondary situations, specifically aligned with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


Virtual Environments, Young Adults with Autism, Postsecondary Transition, Friendships, Emotional Awareness, Role Identification, Transcendental Phenomenology

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Jenn Gallup is an Assistant Professor of special education at Idaho State University with a focus on inclusion through effective integration of UDL particularly in science and mathematics. She publishes and disseminates research in the area of Autism and effective integration technologies such as video games, simulations, and virtual environments, that support and develop interpersonal relationships and soft-skills required for STEM careers. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: galljenn@isu.edu.

Dr. Mary E. Little is a Professor and Program Coordinator in Exceptional Student Education at the University of Central Florida. She has received in excess of $19 million in external funding for research and development from federal, state, and foundation funding agencies including the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: mlittleucf@aol.com.

Dr. Barbara Serianni is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Armstrong University. Her research interests include effective practices for supporting students with disabilities in general education settings and technology integration in teaching and learning. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: barbara.serianni@armstrong.edu.

Dr. Onur Kocaoz graduated with his PhD in Exceptional Education from the University of Central Florida. After completing his program he returned to Konya, Turkey to continue his educational career. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: onurkcz@gmail.com.

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