Feasibility and Safety of Immersive Virtual Reality As a Tool to Improve Police Safety in Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Oral Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 2:06 PM
Room: 518 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
A. Zitter1, R. Solorzano2, S. Turnacioglu2, J. S. Miller3, V. Ravindran4, J. Parish-Morris1 and J. McCleery5, (1)Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Floreo Virtual Reality, Washington DC, DC, (3)Center for Autism Research, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (4)Floreo, Inc., Washington DC, DC, (5)The Center for Autism Research, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), are at an elevated risk of poor outcomes when interacting with police officers. Approximately 1 in 5 adolescents with ASD will be stopped and questioned by an officer before the age of 21 (Rava, Shattuck, Rast, & Roux, 2016), and individuals with disabilities, including ASD, are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than individuals without disabilities (Bronson, Maruschak, & Berzofsky, 2015). Additionally, civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among people with disabilities (Perry & Carter-Long, 2016). Therefore, it is critical to develop interventions that foster safe and effective communication between individuals with disabilities and police officers. Here we report the results of an NIMH-funded Phase I trial to test the safety and feasibility of using immersive virtual reality (VR) to teach police safety behaviors to adolescents and adults with ASD.

Objectives: Assess the safety and feasibility of an immersive VR-based Police Safety Module (PSM) developed by Floreo, Inc. for verbally fluent adolescents and adults with ASD.

Methods: Sixty individuals aged 12-60 years (Mean=16.9, 52 male) with ASD completed 1-3 visits during Phase I of the present study. IQ was estimated at the beginning of the study (Weschler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence; WASI-II) to ensure that all participants met a minimum verbal and overall IQ of ≥ 75 (Mean VCI=104, Mean FSIQ=104.5). During each visit, participants 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 potential adverse side effects. System usability was indexed via participant ratings on the System Usability Scale (Brook, 1996), adapted for adolescents and adults with ASD.

Results: Scores on the revised version of the System Usability Scale ranged from 52.5-100, with the average score exceeding a minimum acceptable score of 70 (Mean=85.3, SD=3.54). Ninety-eight percent of participants completed the entirety of the PSM. Five participants reported mild effects after usage (such as slight headache or disorientation) and no serious adverse events occurred. Eighty percent of participants reported that they would like to use this VR again, suggesting that this program is feasible in verbally fluent adolescents and adults with ASD.

Conclusions: This first-of-its-kind study demonstrated that using immersive VR to teach police safety skills in adolescents and adults with ASD is safe and feasible, with no serious adverse effects and acceptable usability scores. Phase II, beginning spring 2019, includes a randomized control trial to test the efficacy of Floreo PSM on behavior while interacting with live police officers.