Medical Moment: VR avatars get adults with autism jobs
Interviewing for a job can be intimidating, and even more so for someone with autism.
Even in a good job market, only 20 percent of adults with autism get hired. But now, technology is hoping to change that with virtual reality.
Katherine Badyna and her mom share more than mealtime at home. These days they now work for the same company. Katherine was recently hired to do data entry.
“It makes me feel really good because it makes me feel like I’m doing something and that I matter in the world,” Katherine says. “For the longest time, I never thought I mattered.”
Katherine has a learning disability. In 2019, she enrolled at the Dan Marino Foundation where she trained with VITA, or virtual interactive training agents. Avatars that help those with developmental disabilities, including autism, prepare for job interviews.
“It just builds up your confidence, says Mary Partin, CEO of the Dan Marino Foundation. “If you’re prepared, everything’s easier.”
VITA uses a variety of avatars to engage interviewees. “There’s different characteristics,” Partin says. “You can either have someone that’s very soft and will talk to you very nicely, or you can have someone maybe that’s more direct.”
“I remember one time they gave me a hostile person on purpose, cause that was the hardest one,” Katherine says. “But I nailed it!”
Virtual reality like VITA is helping those with autism find work and worth in the real world. “Having a job and doing something every day makes me feel good and know that it’s a way for me to contribute to society,” Katherine says.
Avatars have also been used to help soldiers recovering with PTSD. And in the future, they could help ex-prisoners re-enter the work force.
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