A new human simulation training program – based on software originally used to train FBI agents – helps adults with autism improve their job interview skills and confidence, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The interactive program was designed specifically for adults with psychiatric disorders and was also evaluated for use by adults with autism spectrum disorder. This is the first intervention using human-based simulation that gives these adults repeated practice and feedback on their interviewing skills. The program is now available to the public.

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 individuals, ages 18 to 31, who received the job interview simulation training, and 10 in a 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 an 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 individuals received the intervention.

For the role-play scores, the training group improved by 11 percent compared with 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 repeatedly engage 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.

“We hope that this training program can improve the employment potential for persons with autism spectrum disorder,” said senior study author Michael Fleming, M.D. “Many people with this disorder would like to work but have trouble getting a job.”

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