Using immersive virtual reality (VR) to teach police safety skills in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is safe and feasible, according to research results presented at the International Society of Autism Research 2019 Annual Meeting, held May 1 to 4, in Montreal, Canada.

Researchers conducted a phase 1 trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to test the safety and feasibility of using the immersive VR-based Police Safety Module developed by Floreo, Inc. The study cohort consisted of 60 individuals aged 12 to 60 years (mean age, 16.9; 87% male) with ASD. IQ was estimated at the beginning of the study using the Weschler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence to ensure that all participants met a minimum verbal and overall IQ of ≥75.

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Participants attended up to 3 sessions, during which they engaged in four 2-minute interactions with virtual police officers. Safety was assessed through direct experimenter observations, participant questionnaires, and a qualitative interview that inquired about adverse effects. The average score on the revised version of the System Usability Scale exceeded the minimum acceptable score of 70 (mean score, 85.3). No serious adverse events occurred and 80% of participants reported that they would like to use the VR again.

“Approximately 1 in 5 adolescents with ASD will be stopped and questioned by an officer before the age of 21…, and individuals with disabilities, including ASD, are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than individuals without disabilities,” researchers explained. “[It] is critical to develop interventions that foster safe and effective communication between individuals with disabilities and police officers.”

Researchers added that phase 2, beginning in spring 2019, will include a randomized control trial to test the efficacy of Floreo Police Safety Module by utilizing interactions with live police officers.

Reference

Zitter A, R. Solorzano R, Turnacioglu S, et al. Feasibility and safety of immersive virtual reality as a tool to improve police safety in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder. Presented at: International Society of Autism Research 2019 Annual Meeting; May 1-4, 2019; Montreal, Canada.