A new interview-simulation program helps adults with autism improve job interview skills, according to a new study.
"Our program helps trainees learn to talk about their ability to work as a team member,” says lead author Matthew Smith, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “They also learn how to sound interested and enthusiastic about a potential job, as well as convey that they are hard workers." The program is the first to use human-based simulation to provide adults with autism repeated practice and feedback on their interviewing skills, Dr. Smith adds.
Employment rates among adults with autism are among the lowest of any disability group, despite their many skills, earlier research has shown.
“Clearly, interventions that increase an adults ability to effectively communicate their skills to a future employer is an opportunity to consider,” comments Autism Speaks Director of Adults Services Leslie Long. “As this study indicates, challenges in social and communication skills can be successfully accommodated so adults with autism can become competitively employed.” (Ms. Long and Autism Speaks were not involved in the research.)
The program enables users to repeatedly engage in a simulated job interview with a virtual interviewer named Molly Porter, with the help of a virtual job coach, SIMantha. Trainees gain experience and feedback by speaking their responses to Molly's questions.
For each of Molly's questions, trainees can choose and read one of 10 to 15 responses that have varying degrees of appropriateness. SIMantha provides immediate feedback about whether the response would likely help or hurt rapport with Molly. Trainees receive a score at the end of each interview. Scores of 90 or better come with the message, "You've got the job!"
Molly, the simulated interviewer, appears above and SIMantha, the virtual job coach appears at the bottom-right. A range of responses, with varying degrees of appropriateness, are shown in yellow (and an inappropriate one in white). When the trainee reads one of the choices aloud, speech recognition software enables SIMantha to provide feedback. The trainee can also change the conversation’s direction with a click.
A small pilot study
The study’s small training group included 16 individuals with autism, ages 18 to 31. Each completed 15 to 20 simulated interviews with the program. For comparison, the researchers enrolled 10 adults with autism who did not receive the training.
All participants completed two baseline and two follow-up interviews with an actor playing a human resource employee. A human-resources professional then scored the videos of the in-person role-plays, without knowing which individuals received the training.
Modest but significant improvement
According to the ratings, the job interview skills of the training group improved by 11 percent from baseline to follow up. By contrast, skills improved just 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 program was developed by SIMersion Inc. The company sells the software online and is arranging partnerships with vocational and mental health centers to make the training available to their clients. The study received support through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Individuals interested in accessing
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