Greater Job Independence May lead to Improvements in Core Features of Autism


Employment may be therapeutic in the development of adults with autism

According to a newly released study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, independent work environments may have an affect on improving daily living and help reduce the symptoms of autism in adults.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Researchers and Vanderbilt University found that greater vocational independence and engagement led to improvements in core features of autism, other problem behaviors and ability to take care of oneself when they examined 153 adults with autism.

Lead author, Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator, said, “We found that if you put the person with autism in a more independent vocational placement, this led to measurable improvements in their behaviors and daily living skills overall,”   “One core value in the disability community and at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is placing people with disabilities in the most inclusive environments possible. In addition, this study gives us evidence that increasing the level of independence in an employment or vocational setting can lead to improvements in autism symptoms and other associated behaviors.”

The participants, with the average age of 30, were part of a larger longitudinal study on adolescents and adults with autism. At two time points separated by 5.5 years data was collected for the study.

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Taylor, looked at such autism symptoms as communication impairments, restricted interests, difficulties with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and found the degree of independence in work activities was uniquely connected to subsequent changes in autism symptoms, other problem behaviors and activities of daily living.

The results give preliminary evidence that employment may be therapeutic in the development of adults with autism. Job activities, similar to typically developing adults, may serve as an instrument for providing stimulations, both social and cognitive, and enhance well-being and quality of life.

“Given the prevalence of autism, now one in 88 children, we must continue to examine the factors that promote well-being and quality of life for adults with autism and other disabilities as a whole, ” Taylor said.  “The majority of research on autism has focused on early childhood, but autism is a lifelong disorder with impairments that limit quality of life throughout adulthood.”

 With around 50 percent of adults with autism primarily spending their days with little community contact and in segregated work or activity settings, underemployment is a common phenomenon among adults with autism, the authors noted. Taylor says this research highlights an importance of employment programs for adults with autism and stresses the need for more intervention programming for this population.

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