Work environment shown to improve core symptoms of autism and daily life skills

Vanderbilt study shows a more independent vocational placement leads to measurable improvements in behaviors and daily living skills overall of individuals with autism.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison recently reported in a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders having an independent work environment not only improves daily life skills, but also reduces the core symptoms of autism and other problem behaviors associated with the disorder. With an average age of 30 years old, all 153 of the study participants were adults with autism and were currently part of a larger autism study on teens and adults.

Lead author of the study, 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 researchers found, after looking at common symptoms associated with autism such as repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, communication impairments, and social problems, there was a direct link to the degree of independence in study participants’ workplace and changes in their symptoms and activities of daily living.

These findings give early evidence that as with adults without autism, employment may be therapeutic, offer mental and social stimulation and enhance well-being and quality of life for adults with autism.

“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,” Taylor said. “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.”

The authors of this study indicate a common problem among adults with autism is underemployment noting that nearly half of adults with autism have little social and community contact and are participating in isolated work or activity settings.

Source:  Vanderbilt University

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