What’s the biggest predictor of success for individuals with autism in adulthood? Researchers say it might not be what you’d expect.

The ability to do everyday, self-care activities like bathing, cleaning and cooking trumped other factors like symptom severity and intellectual functioning, according to findings from a new study being presented this week at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City.

Researchers looked at the experiences of 152 people with autism who were diagnosed between 1970 and 1999 at the University of North Carolina TEACCH Autism Program.

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Now that the individuals are adults — with an average age of 35 — the researchers surveyed their caregivers about their current status.

Overall, 44 percent of the adults with autism live with family members and 55 percent are unemployed, the study found. About 1 in 5 had been employed but were no longer working at the time of the survey.

Significantly, those with the highest self-care skills — whether as adults or in childhood — were most likely to maintain employment, work more hours and need fewer supports on the job, researchers said.

Conversely, the study found that adults with autism who had the most difficulty keeping a job were those who exhibited self-care abilities as children that were significantly lower than their IQ.

Traditionally, more emphasis has been put on teaching social communication skills, but researchers said that might need to change in order to appropriately prepare the growing number of people on the spectrum for adulthood.

“We can expect a 230 percent increase in the number of individuals with autism transitioning to adulthood in the next eight years,” said Laura Klinger of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who led the study. “These results provide a wake-up call to parents and professionals alike of the importance of teaching self-care skills.”