New research suggests that a type of therapy relying on computer-based exercises and small group sessions can yield big gains for adults with autism, potentially increasing employability.

The approach known as cognitive enhancement therapy helped those on the spectrum increase their attention and process information more quickly, according to findings published recently in the journal Autism Research. For some participants, that translated into finding jobs.

“Autism can be more complicated for adults because the adult world introduces new challenges,” said Shaun Eack of the University of Pittsburgh who led the study. “The support networks for children, like special education and other help they receive in school, are simply not there for adults. We hope this study will begin to establish effective treatments for adults with autism.”

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The study examined two methods — cognitive enhancement therapy and enriched supportive therapy.

Over the course of 18 months, 54 adults with autism were assigned to participate in one of the therapies. All of the participants were verbal and had average to above-average intelligence

Those in the cognitive enhancement therapy group spent three hours each week doing computer exercises to improve attention, memory and problem solving before graduating to small group sessions where individuals learned to understand others’ perspectives and handle social interactions.

Enriched supportive therapy involved weekly hourlong sessions where individuals were taught one-on-one to manage emotions and stress, deal with problems and enhance their social skills.

Both groups saw gains in cognitive function, but it took those participating in enriched supportive therapy sessions almost nine months longer for these benefits to emerge, the study found.

In addition, individuals who participated in cognitive enhancement therapy “were significantly more likely to gain competitive employment,” the researchers concluded.