"Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are typically (impaired)
in their ability to socially communicate, so in the job interview
setting, they may have difficulty picking up social cues," lead
author Matthew J. Smith told Reuters Health.
“They may have difficulty sharing things in a positive way or they
may have difficulty coming across as easy to work with,” said Smith,
a psychiatry researcher at the Northwestern University Feinberg
School of Medicine in Chicago.
The employment rate for adults with autism is very low and
approximately 50,000 people with autism turn 18 each year in the
U.S., say the authors.
The interactive virtual reality program, which the researchers call
Molly, was designed to improve the interview skills of adults with
psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as
well as adults with autism spectrum disorder.
“The job-interview training program was actually created by a
company called SIMmersion - they created it with the scientific
guidance from our team here at Northwestern as well as a professor
from Yale, Morris Bell,” Smith said. “And so the heart of the
training is virtual - it's a virtual human resources staff member
named Molly Porter.”
The computer-based training provides users with the opportunity to
repeatedly engage in a simulated job interview, so the trainees gain
experience by responding to Molly's questions.
“Over the course of the interview, she'll ask different questions
that are related to the job interview process, so one question could
be, ‘If you could have changed one thing at your last job, what
would it be?’” Smith said. “And then, trainees are presented with
anywhere from five to 15 responses that they can choose as a
response to Molly's questions.”
He said the potential replies vary from being very appropriate to
the job interview process to being potentially hurtful.
Voice recognition software allows the program to interact with the
user. So, Smith said, the system provides a virtual job coach who
gives immediate feedback about whether the trainee is responding in
a way that helps or hurts rapport with Molly.
The program was designed to get increasingly difficult as an
individual progresses and masters basic skills, he added.
Smith and colleagues wanted to test the feasibility of using the
program for interview training and how much it would improve job
interview performance, so they enrolled 26 people between the ages
of 18 and 31 with ASD.
All participants completed baseline interviews and clinical
assessments and then returned two weeks later to repeat two
role-playing and self-confidence tests. Between those initial and
final tests, 16 participants received the virtual job interview
training and 10 comparison-group participants did not.
The training consisted of 10 hours of interviews with Molly over the
course of five visits.
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When the researchers compared the role-play scores at the end of the
study, they found the training group’s scores had improved by an
average of 11 percent compared to a 1-percent improvement in the
In self-confidence scores, the training group improved by 22 percent
compared to 7 percent for the comparison group, according to the
results published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental
“So what we know is that, working with Molly improves interviewing
skills - that's what our data suggests,” Smith said. “And right now,
we just completed six-month follow-up data on everybody where we
wanted to ask them whether they were able to go out and find a job
or whether they were able to find competitive volunteer work where
they would need a completed interview just to get a volunteer
That data is not published yet but looks promising, he said.
“I think the whole issue that people with ASD face related to
interviews is among the most severe when it comes to getting a job,”
said Carol Schall who directs the Virginia Autism Resource Center at
the Virginia Commonwealth University.
“So I think an intervention of this sort is very important,
particularly for those individuals who maybe are not as limited as
it relates to their autism spectrum disorder,” said Schall, who was
not involved in the new study but works with Project SEARCH, a
program that helps high school students with autism transition to
the job world.
Because autism spectrum disorder primarily affects an individual’s
social communication, the whole setup of a job interview is going to
be severely impacted by the disorder itself, she told Reuters
Schall said that adults with autism often have a lack of
understanding of the other person’s perspective so they don’t
understand the purpose of an interview question or anticipate the
answer that the person is looking for and are unable to tailor their
answers to what interviewers are expecting.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, online May 8, 2014.
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