VIRTUS: an innovative approach to vocational education and training for autistic individuals
Autistic individuals face numerous obstacles when trying to navigate a world designed for neurotypical people. Because of the challenges autistic people are confronted with in communication and social interaction, they can often be misunderstood, and unfairly percieved, as unsuitable for employment, which can lead to them being excluded and marginalised from society.
To tackle these inequalities head-on, it is important to provide autistic individuals with high-quality vocational education programmes that are specifically tailored to them. Programmes that address social, pre-vocational and vocational skills are particularly in need as such training can prepare them for the transition to the labour market. This is where the VIRTUS project comes in.
Running from March 2022 to April 2024, this Erasmus+ funded project will develop an innovative training programme for autistic individuals to facilitate their access to meaningful employment. The programme will include the use of virtual reality (VR), which is recognised as a useful training tool for autistic people.
So, what has happened during the first nine months of the VIRTUS project?
Their first step was conducting a Needs Analysis on the employability of autistic individuals, which was based on questionnaires and interviews. The data collected were included in a report, whose main results show that autistic individuals:
- have different working profiles, which shows adaptations to the workspace are important;
- require an organised work routine and support from supervisors and colleagues on a frequent to rare basis;
- and need particular attention to be paid to their sensory profiles to ensure that their workspace is adapted to their needs.
In addition to this, research was conducted by our partner organisations for the development of VIRTUS' upcoming Vocational Education and Training Curriculum. Key insights that came out of this research demonstrate that:
- there is an urgent need for training and autism awareness for employers and colleagues to be able to support autistic employees;
- programmes that employ technology and relevant applications, such as virtual reality and video modelling, seem to be effective enough for most participants with autism;
- programmes that include interview preparation have consistently positive results, especially since a great number autistic individuals face difficulties in managing their social and communication skills in stressful situations;
- vocational curricula need to entail three categories of skills to cover the needs of autistic prospective employees (social / interpersonal, pre-vocational, and vocational skills);
- and continuous support before and after recruitment is crucial to job satisfaction and maintenance.
Based on the data gathered so far, the VIRTUS project partners are now focusing on developing the VIRTUS Education and Training Programme. This will be accompanied by virtual reality scenarios. By experiencing realistic simulations of different workplaces in carefully controlled virtual environments, autistic individuals will be able to develop their professional skills in a safe setting.
On top of this, during their project meeting in Athens in November, partners had the chance to test out the first virtual reality scenario developed by one of the partner organisations, and discussed changes that should be made to fit the sensory needs of autistic participants.
To learn more about the project visit the VIRTUS website.