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Kessler Foundation Awarded Grant to Use Virtual Reality to Prepare Adolescents with Autism for Employment

Photo of Helen Genova and Alec De Graaf using virtual reality
Submitted by nmiller on Mon, 04/29/2019 - 08:54

Helen Genova, PhD, assistant director of Kessler Foundation’s Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, received a $355,000 grant from the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research Treatment of Autism. The grant which starts in June 2019, will fund Genova’s study using virtual reality to improve employment opportunities for young adults with autism.

“This is a major step forward in helping young adults with autism prepare for the job market,” says Genova. “I anticipate that this study will help adolescents with autism improve confidence and performance during job interviews.”

For many adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, job interviews can be challenging. The grant, “Utilization of a Virtual-Reality Based Job Training Tool in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” will help with the job interviewing process. The study examines the effectiveness of an innovative virtual reality intervention to improve the ability of transition-age youth with autism spectrum disorders, to obtain employment by improving interview skills. The intervention focuses on the improvement of interview abilities through repeated interview practice with a virtual human avatar. This study will examine if virtual reality intervention improves job interview skills while increasing confidence and reducing anxiety related to interviewing.

The study will be performed in a school setting, to examine whether the intervention could be incorporated into a high school curriculum geared toward helping teenagers transition into adulthood. Faculty members, students, and members of the autism community will be involved in the process.

Genova will partner with Children Specialized Hospital for this study. 

“We know that the job interview can be nerve-wracking for anyone,” says Genova. “But we hope that by using the techniques they learn during our study, adolescents with autism will be able to have success on interviews and hopefully obtain employment.”