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Work Environment May Improve Autism Symptoms


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Placing adults with autism in more independent work environments may actually help alleviate symptoms of the developmental disorder, researchers say.

In a new study of 153 adults on the spectrum ages 19 to 53, researchers found that where people with autism work appears to influence their development and that employment may play a “therapeutic role” for this group.

“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,” said Julie Lounds Taylor of Vanderbilt University’s Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, a lead author of the study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Researchers assessed the individuals — largely by interviewing their parents — at two points during the study with more than five years in between, looking at whether they had restricted interest areas, displayed repetitive behaviors or experienced communication or social difficulties, among other autism symptoms.

Parents were also asked what type of work — if any — their son or daughter participated in and how well they handled independent living skills like personal care and making meals.

Sheltered workshop environments were the most common placement for the adults with autism studied, with about half spending at least some time in such settings at both the beginning and end of the research period, researchers said. Meanwhile about 20 percent were working independently in competitive employment or seeking a degree. Others had no job, were strictly volunteering or worked with some level of support in the community.

Participants in the study represented the range of those on the autism spectrum, with some having average or very high IQ scores while about 70 percent were also diagnosed with intellectual disability.

Those with greater independence in their work activities exhibited more improvement in symptoms, behavior and daily living skills over the years, the study found.

Previous research suggests that unemployment and underemployment are serious issues for those with autism, with various studies indicating that anywhere between 20 and 75 percent of adults with the developmental disorder have no formal daily activities, the researchers said.

Much like the experience of typically-developing people, Taylor said the new findings highlight how important employment can be for the overall well-being of those on the spectrum.

“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,” she said. “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.”

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. Kids Like Moses Advocacy says:

    This is a great article showing when opportunity is given to unique individual with unique characteristic helps all of us to have a chance to get involved. To create a change in the way some might think about autism. Allowing the mainstream population to except the world of autism when the two world interact for the quality of life. Everyday as we the care takers of our autistic children that have become young adults to adults, hoping in our hearts to see the two worlds establish a opportunity they are entitled to experience on a daily bases. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. Laurie LaGoe says:

    My worst employment experience has been looking for employment. Looking for employment is just like the dating game. It is full of unwritten and unspoken rules and one thinks they have to try to be somebody they are really not.

    The sheltered workshop is just as bad, especially if one is forced to live solely on it’s wages. The worker is forced to work fast just to get the Federal minimum wage.

  3. me says:

    Wow – Talk about nothing about us without us! “Researchers assessed the individuals — largely by interviewing their parents” We do not have a voice – rights.

    “70 percent were also diagnosed with intellectual disability”

    Really? I thought most of us were highly intelligent.

    I know I could have dull well, had I ever had any support.

  4. Katie says:

    NEWSFLASH: When people like their jobs and feel respected, they are happier and do better in life overall. This is not autism-specific. Applies to humans in general.

  5. Whitney says:

    Not really it is based upon the state you live in, Kids Like Moses. Not all the states in the union get the same amount services and the quality of service. There is going be fundamental change in HR when it comes to hiring based upon social skills. I am not dissing the fact the soft skills are needed but they alone should not be the reason a person can get a job. Most of the jobs should be based upon skills not how well a person maintains eye contact. Background checks I am sorry are meaningless if just focus on credit score. It is step in the right direction but the services have to be at level that is uniform in all 50 states not just a few. Researchers need to talk to people with Autism. Yeah it might real shocker,

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