Various aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have been under study for many years. While the emphasis has been on early identification and early treatment of children with ASD, a sometimes overlooked fact is that ASD children grow up to be teenagers. An essential life skill for teenagers is the ability to drive. However, ASD teens and adults are often prone to certain mistakes in driving and gaze patterns required for driving.
Collaborators at Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering and the Kennedy Center have created a simulator that is meant to teach ASD teenagers these critical skills. A number of capabilities have been built into the Vanderbilt VR Adaptive Driving Intervention Architecture (VADIA). Not only is it specifically designed to teach adolescents with ASD the basic rules of the road, but VADIA also gathers information about the unique ways that they react to driving situations. This will allow the system to alter driving scenarios with varying degrees of difficulty to provide users with the training they need while keeping them engaged in the process. Ultimately, it may also help screen individuals whose deficits are too severe to drive safely.
The basic system consists of an automotive-style bucket seat, steering wheel, brake and gas pedals in front of a large, flat screen display on a height-adjustable table. The black box sitting directly below the screen is an eye-tracker that keeps track of where the driver is looking. This approach to improvement of driving skills could help large numbers of young adults in addition to reducing health care costs.
Vanderbilt is seeking partners to commercialize the system.