Human beings, when faced with a stressful situation, tend to underestimate their own likelihood of being able to think and speak coherently, behave in ways that are uncharacteristic, and make poor decisions. Such behaviors are exacerbated if the individual has a social communication deficit such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Core characteristics of ASD, such as difficulty making eye contact, are often assessed as threatening behaviors by law enforcement officers (LEOs) and can lead to disastrous results such as misinformed arrests. Federal, state and private organizations have funded numerous studies targeted at identifying ASD, treating the core deficits of ASD, and ASD intervention. However, persons with ASD still engage with the public and in environments outside of intervention and treatment settings. As these individuals age and continue to exist in our communities, the probability that they will need the services of LEOs or have interactions with LEOs is relatively high. However, LEOs may not have the knowledge or prior training to effectively interact with the ASD community or respond to a crisis situation with a person with ASD. As a result, it is essential to train LEOs to interact in safe and productive ways with the ASD community.
The SABA funding will support Dr. Chaturi Edrisinha develop a methodology to train LEOs using virtual reality (VR) to quickly identify and de-escalate scenarios with mock civilians who exhibit characteristics of ASD. Such a training would greatly reduce the risk factors involved in potentially crisis situations while concurrently providing an opportunity for LEOs to vividly and viscerally experience the crisis. The benefits of such a study include an improved understanding of the effective ways of training LEOs; extending the scope of VR as a training tool to identify characteristics of ASD; exploring the consequences of decision making; and prompting LEOs to de-escalate a potential crisis without the human risks involved. Such a strategy could potentially open up exciting avenues of research within which increasingly complex questions such as the function and evocation of risk-taking behaviors and the contextual nature of a risk analysis can be further examined without human risk or cost.
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