Virtual Reality Helps Autistic Adults Get Jobs
If you’re the parent of a grown or teenage child on the autism spectrum, you may have concerns about your offspring’s possibilities for employment and independent living. Now researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago have created a new interactive computer program using human-based simulation that gives autistic adults repeated practice and feedback on their interviewing skills. The program is now available to the public. The study was published May 8th 2014 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
A release from the university quotes lead author Matthew J. Smith PhD as saying, “Adults with an autism spectrum disorder tend to have difficulties with social communication, which may interfere with them having a successful job interview. Our program helps trainees learn to talk about their ability to work as a team member so they sound easy to work with. They also learn how to sound interested and enthusiastic about a potential job, as well as convey that they are a hard worker.”
The release, which was written by Marla Paul, notes that the employment rate for people with autism is very low. In 2009, only 33 percent of young adults with autism had a job. Approximately 50,000 individuals with autism turn 18 each year.
“We hope that this training program can improve the employment potential for persons with autism spectrum disorder,” said senior study author Michael Fleming MD. “Many people with this disorder would like to work but have trouble getting a job.”
The program was a collaborative effort between Northwestern, SIMmersion LLC and Morris Bell, a professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, to develop and test the training program.
The trial included 16 participants ages 18 to 31 who received the job interview simulation training and 10 in the control group who did not. Those in the training group each practiced 15 to 20 job interviews with the virtual reality training.
Subjects completed two baseline and two follow up interviews with a trained actor playing a human resource employee. The videos of these role-plays were then scored by a human resources expert, who did not know which people received the intervention.
For the role-play scores, the training group improved by 11 percent compared to 1 percent for the control group. In self-confidence scores, the training group improved by 22 percent compared to 7 percent for the control group.
The computer or Internet-based training provides users with the opportunity to engage repeatedly in a simulated job interview with a virtual human resources staff member named Molly Porter. Trainees gain experience by speaking their responses to Molly’s questions using voice recognition software.
Each of Molly’s questions has 10 to 15 responses that have varying degrees of appropriateness and were created by a panel of vocational rehabilitation experts. The virtual environment also provides a job coach who gives in-the-moment feedback about whether the trainee is responding in a way that helps or hurts rapport with Molly. Trainees receive a score at the end of each interview with scores of 90 or better informing them that, “You’ve got the job!”