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Virtual Soft Skills at Work (Transition-Age Youth with Autism)

Language Disclaimer: While we recognize that there are many different ways of talking about autism (see Kenny et al., 2016), we have chosen to use primarily person-first language in this context as it is consistent with the language used within special education and in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004).

In 2020, Dr. Smith and SIMmersion, LLC, received a 5-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R44 MH123359-01) to develop a computerized simulation to help transition-age youth with autism practice their soft skills in a work setting by repeatedly practicing conversations with virtual customers, coworkers, and supervisors.


Dr. Smith, SIMmersion, and their collaborative team from the University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State University, University of North Carolina, and San Diego State University will focus the intervention on helping transition-age youth with autism learn more about reading social signals, understanding others’ points of view, and staying professional in a work setting so they can be more effective when talking with customers, coworkers, and supervisors.


Dr. Smith, SIMmersion LLC, and their team will focus on developing this exciting new intervention beginning in May 2020 with a goal of completing development by January 2022. Then in May 2022, the research team will begin evaluating whether the tool is associated with improved soft skills and sustained employment by partnering with Michigan Career and Technical Institute, which supports more than 100 transition-age youth with autism per year.