Evidence-Based Cognitive Rehabilitation to Improve Functional Outcomes for Young Adults with Autism-Spectrum Disorders
University of Pittsburgh
This project proposes to bring an evidence-based, innovative cognitive rehabilitation approach (Cognitive Enhancement Therapy - CET) to young verbal adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who often experience substantial lifelong disability. At the core of these disorders are problems in thinking and social-emotional functioning that lead to substantial disability, particularly as individuals transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, few interventions are available for adults with ASD, and even fewer focus on the remediation of cognitive and social-emotional deficits that impede the development of complex adaptive behaviors which are essential for achievement in adult life. To address this major gap in the treatment of ASD, the study will adapt and test the efficacy of CET with young transitional-age high-functioning adults with ASD. CET is a social-cognitive and neurocognitive rehabilitation program originally developed for schizophrenia that has demonstrated significant improvements in many of the cognitive and functional domains impaired in ASD. This project will first adapt the CET treatment to reflect the uniqueness of autism, and then proceed to conduct a small-scale randomized trial with 48 young adults with ASD to obtain initial efficacy data on cognitive and functional outcomes to support the feasibility of a larger and more definitive trial. The proposed project will be the first rigorous clinical trial of a proven cognitive rehabilitation approach with verbal adults with ASD. If successful, this project will represent a major step forward in the treatment of verbal adults with ASD, and have implications for both younger individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders that share similar cognitive, affective and social impairments.