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Virtual Reality Job Interview Training May Help Autistic Adolescents

A team of researchers led by the Kessler Foundation has demonstrated the feasibility of a novel approach to improving interview skills among autistic adolescents. Their article, “A pilot RCT of virtual reality job interview training in transition-age youth on the autism spectrum,” was published in the November 2021 issue of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The authors are Helen M. Genova, PhD, Katie Lancaster, PhD, Mikayla Haas, Michael DiBenedetto, Denise Krch, PhD, and John DeLuca, PhD, of Kessler Foundation, James Morecraft and Alexandra Edwards, formerly of Kessler Foundation, and Matthew J. Smith, PhD, of the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Interviewing skills, which are essential to successful jobhunting, are challenging for adolescents on the autism spectrum, who often have difficulty with social interactions. Researchers focused on improving these skills in this randomized, controlled trial conducted in a high school setting.

Dr. Helen Genova is Associate Director of the Center for Autism Research at Kessler Foundation.
Dr. Helen Genova is Associate Director of the Center for Autism Research at Kessler

The 14 participants were divided into either an experimental group or a control group. The experimental group received 10 hours of Virtual Reality Job Interview Training (VR-JIT), which included interviewing with a virtual human and receiving feedback. The control group continued to receive their normal services as usual. To track performance, all participants were video recorded while performing mock job interviews at baseline and follow-up. Students filled out pre- and post-intervention questionnaires related to job interviewing anxiety and self-efficacy.

The study showed that certain job interview skills improved in the group that received the job interview training, while the control group’s performance did not change over time. Students were positive about their experiences with the VR-JIT, reporting that the VR-JIT program was easy to use and enjoyable.

The results provide preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of this tool for improving interviewing skills in students on the autism spectrum. “By conducting this pilot study in the school setting, we showed that it is feasible to incorporate this training in the educational curriculum for autistic students,” said Dr. Helen Genova, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at Kessler Foundation, and a faculty fellow with the Level Up: Employment Skills Simulation Lab at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

“This pilot study may prove to be a promising initial step toward job readiness for transition-age youth on the autism spectrum. To increase their employment prospects, we need to continue to explore new and effective ways to prepare these students for the workplace.”

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