Dr. Cecilia Feeley and Dr. Caroline Whyatt are using a safe, controlled virtual environment to examine road-crossing behavior in adults with autism. They are recruiting participants for the study now, and have created the following video describing their efforts.



For people with autism, relatively little is known about the impact that current pedestrian infrastructure has on them.

Dr. Cecilia Feeley, transportation autism project manager at the Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) and Dr. Caroline Whyatt, a lecturer at the University of Herfordshire in the United Kingdom, have designed a study to learn more about those impacts and to help inform future infrastructure modifications.

By using a safe and controlled, yet ecologically valid virtual environment, they will be examining road-crossing behaviors of adults with autism. Researchers will track eye gaze and capture common stress indicators including heart rate, body temperature, and perspiration levels during the study. They are currently recruiting people between the ages of 10 to 50 years old to participate.

“The priority of the research is to enhance the quality of life of adults on the spectrum by scientifically determining areas in the pedestrian infrastructure and road-crossing design that are negatively impacting persons with autism,” Feeley said.

Through identifying the potential barriers in pedestrian infrastructure design, modifications can be made so that sidewalks and crosswalks are more usable to those with autism and other developmental disabilities, among other improvements.

By adding elements such as curb cuts that allow people with assistive-mobility devices to more easily move from the street to the sidewalk, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has made changes to pedestrian infrastructure before to help address navigation barriers that people with disabilities face.

A recent study found that as many as 54% of New Jersey adults with autism are unable to safely cross the road. These pedestrian skills are necessary for both community integration and using public transit services, and help show the need for more research to better understand what designs can address the specific navigation barriers that people with autism deal with.