The Center for Autism Research (CAR) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is conducting a federally funded study to teach individuals on the spectrum how to properly navigate situations with law enforcement. The key is in virtual reality (VR). Through just a handheld device and a headset, VR allows people to immerse themselves into hyper-realistic scenarios in a matter of seconds.
Floreo is a VR device and application used as an educational tool for individuals with autism. The product’s creators are, “developing content for learning discrete social behaviors, managing planned and unplanned events, and improving sensory and emotional regulation.” Such scenarios include street crossing, social skills for school, travel safety, and imitation.
Both CAR and Floreo recognized the difficulty of interactions with law enforcement for individuals with autism. Trouble with eye contact and over-stimulation may lead police officers to view individuals with autism as dangerous, especially when autism isn’t an immediately visible disability.
Joseph McCleery, a lead researcher with CAR, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “A virtual interaction is a really useful tool because people on the spectrum need more practice than other people.” The simulation places individuals in a situation with law enforcement, allowing individuals to choose scenarios and responses. The VR experience can also be used with law enforcement officers to effectively de-escalate situations without harming anyone.
The study will be conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia this summer, but it is looking to expand to schools and other educational settings.
Watch Floreo in action below: