Practicing job interview skills using a virtual simulator could significantly increase the odds that young adults with autism find employment, new research suggests.

In a study looking at people on the spectrum ages 16 to 26, researchers found that individuals who participated in a virtual employment training program were much more likely than those who only received typical pre-employment transition services to get hired within six months.

The study published this month in the journal Autism involved 71 students with autism receiving school-based pre-employment services, 48 of whom also spent several hours doing the computer-based simulator exercises.

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The virtual training is a self-guided process where participants complete an online application for a job and do practice job interviews with two computerized hiring managers at a fictional company. During the interviews, participants receive feedback from an on-screen coach.

Originally developed to help adults with mental illness gain employment, the tool was reworked to address the needs of young people with autism.

The students with autism who completed the virtual training program ultimately had better interviewing skills and less anxiety than those who only received traditional services. And, 42% of the young adults in the study who did the virtual interviews obtained jobs within six months compared to only 30% of the others in the study.

“Virtual Interview Training for Transition Age Youth appears to be effective at teaching job interview skills that are associated with accessing competitive jobs,” concluded Matthew Smith of the University of Michigan and his colleagues. “Moreover, youth enjoyed Virtual Interview Training for Transition Age Youth and teachers feasibly implemented the tool within special education pre-employment transition services.”

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