Category: Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders
Immersive virtual reality (VR) is a valuable new tool that can be used to support evidence-based interventions. For example, VR platforms have been shown to be effective aids in traditional behavioral exposure therapies which use extinction to reduce conditioned fear and other responses (e.g., PTSD: Beidel et al., 2017; Dental Phobia: Gujjar et al., 2017; Public Speaking Anxiety: Stupar-Rutenfrans et al., 2017; Cues to Binge Eating: Ferrer-Garcia et al., 2017). In this study, we report on the cognitive-behavioral strategies used in Phase I of a multi-phase intervention study focused on preparing adolescents and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to interact safely with law enforcement. Motivated by research showing that approximately 20% of adolescents with ASD will be stopped and questioned by a police officer before age 21 (Rava, Shattuck, Rast, & Roux, 2016), and people with disabilities including autism are 5x more likely to be incarcerated (Bronson, Maruschak, & Berzofsky, 2015), we assess the safety and feasibility of a VR-based police interaction training and exposure module for verbally able adolescents and adults with ASD (NIH R42MH115539-1). In order to reduce fear and improve participants’ ability to safely communicate with police officers, we integrate well-established components of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) into our immersive VR intervention (Floreo Police Safety Module). In this presentation, we will describe intervention procedures and data related to 60 participants who completed at least 4 immersive VR interactions with virtual police officers, in conjunction with CBT supports. During the interactions, participants engage in varied one-on-one and two-on-one conversations (learning cards) with virtual members of law enforcement. After each learning card, the monitor provides participants with direct feedback on their performance and progress, and works to improve specific skills (e.g., looking at the officer when s/he speaks, keeping hands visible). At the end of each session, overall performance and progress from the session is reviewed and the participant agrees to a set of goals for their next session. Safety is assessed through direct experimenter observations, participant questionnaires, and through a qualitative interview that includes questions about adverse side effects. System usability is indexed via participant ratings on the System Usability Scale (Brook, 1996), adapted for adolescents and adults with ASD. Phase II of this clinical trial will include laboratory-based (Phase IIa) and community-based (Phase IIb) randomized controlled trials evaluating the impact of the intervention on live interactions with police officers.
Ashley Zitter– Clinical Research Assistant, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Julia Parish-Morris– Scientist, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Rita Solorzano– Director of Therapy Content, Floreo, Inc.
Sinan Turnacioglu– Chief Medical Officer, Floreo, Inc.
Vijay Ravindran– Co-Founder & CEO, Floreo, Inc.
Vibha Sazawal– Co-Founder & Advisor, Floreo, Inc.
Joseph McCleery– Developmental Neuroscientist, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia