VirTra, Inc. has released a new V-VICTA (VirTra Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy) training curriculum designed to help law enforcement professionals bridge the communication gap and interact more effectively, and positively, with individuals with autism. To develop the Autism Awareness simulation training program, VirTra partnered with the renowned experts at SARRC (Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center).

This curriculum and virtual reality scenarios include actors diagnosed with autism as well as modules covering a variety of topics, including recognition, communication strategies and best practices for law enforcement officers.

An agency-wide demonstration of the scenario-based trainings will be given by the Harford County (Maryland) Sheriff’s Department in June.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism in the United States, and estimates suggests that 50,000 teens with autism transition into adulthood each year. The growing number of diagnoses and increasing population indicate that it is highly likely that a law enforcement officer will come into contact with someone on the autism spectrum.

“I think helping police officers understand the social differences with people with autism (who they might interact with) is what’s really critical,” says Dr. Daniel Openden, president and CEO of SARRC. “Usually training stops at talking to people, not practicing with feedback. Knowledge-based didactic training for police officers is good if we want to increase knowledge, but if we really want to change behavior and interactions out on the street, then we have to do behavior-based training. That’s what VirTra built into the technology, and that’s what’s really going to make a difference.”

The V-VICTA curriculum was designed by VirTra’s in-house subject matter experts and SARRC professionals and has been previewed and beta tested by some of VirTra’s current law enforcement customers. Both the written lesson plan and simulator scenarios were reviewed extensively by various members of law enforcement around the country.

Chief Allen Muma of Jerome Police Department, Arizona, who tested the curriculum, commented: “I just fell in love with it. VirTra is forward-looking. It’s not just shoot/don’t shoot. Now, they’re offering scenarios and more training, so you get this auditory or visual learning from watching it, but then you get that kinesthetic learning from actually practicing what you just learned, which actually is proven to hold in your mind longer.”

Lon Bartel, Director of Training and Curriculum at VirTra, added: “We hope that by offering this new curriculum, officers will be better equipped to handle an encounter with autistic persons. If we can educate officers so that they know what signs and behaviors to look for, and how to respond appropriately, then we will reach better outcomes.”

The Autism Awareness curriculum has been added to VirTra’s library and is available to customers with VOS 4.6 or later and will be delivered during their Annual Service Visit if they are on a current plan that provides one.