Helping Autistic individuals prepare for job interviews
Client: Self-directed project; presented to Reason Digital
Focus: Design thinking, design research
Project Duration: Five weeks
I. The challenge
“How might we enable people to create and access their data promoting self-awareness and creating more emotionally intelligent organizations and society?”
This project brief, proposed by a student in the Master's program and presented to Reason Digital, a digital design agency focused on combatting major societal issues such as poverty, disease and loneliness.
II. Which galaxy in the universe: Finding our angle
Our original brief was very broad and lacking a target group. To help refine our focus we used the following analogy: the brief was the universe and we needed to refine the focus to a particular galaxy.
In the midst of our discussion about our research, one of our colleagues mentioned difficulties his father had with understanding emotions due to his Autism (Asperger’s) and the toll it took on his relationship with his wife. In conversing about this further, we realized the potential in exploring this further. This brought us to the following question:
How might we bridge communication between neurotypical* and neurodiverse* individuals?
*Neurotypical individuals don’t exhibit neurologically atypical patterns of thoughts or behaviors. Neurodiverse individuals have neurological differences recognized and respected as any other human variation. This includes dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADD, Autism, among others.
In our first phase of primary and secondary research, we tried to understand Autism and the struggles it imposed with communication.
Secondary Research: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a spectrum disorder with level of support needed increasing as one moves up the spectrum. We decided to focus on the milder end of the spectrum given our time and ethical constraints. (NOTE: Asperger’s is no longer formally recognized by the field, instead it is categorized as a milder form of Autism.)
The condition’s symptoms include:
• Little or inconsistent eye contact
• Appearing to not listen
• Having difficulties with conversations
• Facial expressions not matching words
• Having trouble understanding another point of view
Primary Research: Understanding Their Struggles (In-depth interviews)
It was important to us to also speak with individuals who have the condition to understand their personal experiences with disorder and how it affected them operating in a “neurotypical world”.
We had 15 in-depth interviews:
• 8 individuals with Asperger's
• 3 educators
• 3 experts in Autism
• 1 parent with a child with the condition
Up to 90% of autistic people are unemployed or underemployed (Source: Autism Speaks), mainly due to lack of understanding the subtleties of communication, and a distracting work place environment. Simultaneously, there is employer demand for skills that many autistic people naturally possess (e.g. proficiency with data and analytics).
Reconciling this fact with our interview findings, we understood lack of “proper communication skills” was a significant contributing factor in unemployment. Comments we heard in our interviews echoed similar difficulties.
The following are the consistent comments we came across in our interviews (those bolded are directly relevant to our findings):
• ASD individuals wanting to be more social and make friends
• ASD individuals wanting to understand social nuances
• Better coping skills with ASD through age and experience
• Easier to deal with symptoms of ASD once diagnosed
• Preference for remote working
• Preference for communicating through writing
• A need for predictability
V. Building the solution
VI. KIRAN: Features
KIRAN is a mobile application to help those on the mild autistic spectrum prepare for job interviews.
In preparing for interviews, several people mentioned that they record themselves and review the playback. Role playing was also a helpful tool to deal with the stress and anxiety of such situations.
1. Interview Simulations via KIRAN bot
Individuals can prepare for interviews by having a mock call with the Kiran bot. And through face and voice analysis (integrating existing technologies in this space), Kiran bot provides feedback on performance to help improve communication skills.
2. Creating a success plan
Individuals with ASD often have a hard time in unpredictable situations and this arouses anxiety. In the interview process, this means they have a harder time with breaking down the preparation process into smaller parts.
With our calendar tool, users can create a game plan for the interview or set new goals for skills they want to improve. The user will get prompts alerting them of things they must remember or do.
3. Measuring progress
Measuring progress is important to review performance over time. All the past interviews can be reviewed to track areas of strengths and what needs improvement.
A resource tool provides opportunity to build on areas that need improvement through games and tips.
VII. KIRAN: Design Considerations
1. Levels to help progress
To ease the user into the experience and build confidence interviewing, there is a level system with interviewing getting "harder" and more real as the individual progresses. Kiran can be configured to have a different persona, the user can role play different conditions, and even talk to a real life person, moving away from predictable situations and into uncertain ones to build confidence.
Since everyone with ASD has unique needs, we allow for customisation by allowing KIRAN to be configured in a way that matches their needs so they can focus more on improving on areas of weakness.
3. Accessibility needs
Individuals with ASD may find certain colors and font types distracting, to help overcome this, we designed our app, select font sizes, font type, and color schemes
4. Educating employers to better respond to patterns of ASD
The solution places a lot of the labor and burden on ASD individuals. A comprehensive solution must consider the employer's perspective as well.
In the employer's version KIRAN emulates characteristics of someone with ASD to help build empathy and understand nuances of communication along with an assessment tool to determine neurodiverse-ready workplaces.