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Employment Can Help Adults with Autism Overcome Disabilities

Autism Speaks-funded study finds that jobs that encourage independence reduce autism symptoms and improve life skills
January 13, 2014

A study funded in part by Autism Speaks suggests that job activities that encourage independence reduce disabling autism symptoms and increase daily living skills. The report appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“With generous support from Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health, we’ve been exploring the role of employment and vocational activities in the development of adults with autism,” says lead author Julie Lounds Taylor, of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, in Nashville. The Vanderbilt center is a member of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. Dr. Taylor’s co-authors included Autism Speaks-funded researchers Marsha Mailick and Leann Smith, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The researchers tracked 153 adults with autism who were part of a larger study following teens and adults with autism over 10 years. They used their “Vocational Index for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders” to rate the degree of independence involved in each participant’s work activities. They compared this with changes in each participant’s autism symptoms, problem behaviors and daily living skills over the course of the study. These symptoms included restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, communication impairments and difficulty with social interactions.

Overall, they found that autism symptoms and problem behaviors decreased and daily living skills improved when participants spent time in work that encouraged greater independence. And the improvements continued to increase in relationship to the amount of time spent in such work activities. 

“These results suggest that a good job fit with appropriate vocational supports may encourage the further development of adults with autism,” says Lauren Elder, Autism Speaks assistant director for dissemination science. “It highlights the importance and need for more intervention and employment programs for adults with autism.”

Previous research supported by Autism Speaks found more than a third of adults with autism remain unengaged in either work or education after high school. This is a lower participation rate than seen with other developmental disabilities including intellectual disability. It also emphasized the need for research into the best ways to help young adults with autism become engaged members of their communities.

“Underemployment is particularly common problem among adults with autism, which is unfortunate as individuals with autism have much to contribute in an employment setting,” Dr. Elder says.

In addition to Autism Speaks funding, the Vanderbilt study received support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Research Resources. 

You can explore all the research Autism Speaks is funding using this website’s grant search