For adults with autism, working in an independent environment leads to fewer disorder symptoms and improves daily living skills, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The study, which involved 153 adults with autism, showed that having greater vocational independence and engagement resulted in improvements in core symptoms of autism, other problem behaviors, and the ability to take care of daily tasks.
“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 lead author Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and special education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator.
“One core value in the disability community and at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is placing people with disabilities in the most inclusive environments possible. In addition, this study gives us evidence that increasing the level of independence in an employment or vocational setting can lead to improvements in autism symptoms and other associated behaviors.”
The participants (whose average age was 30 years) were part of a larger longitudinal study on teens and adults with autism.
The researchers looked at certain autism symptoms such as restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, communication impairments, and social problems. They found that the degree of independence in the participants’ workplace was directly related to later changes in their symptoms, other problem behaviors, and activities of daily living.
The findings provide early evidence that employment may be therapeutic for adults with autism. Similar to adults without autism, job activities may offer mental and social stimulation and enhance well-being and quality of life.
“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,” Taylor said. “Given the prevalence of autism, now one in 88 children, 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.”
Underemployment is a common problem among adults with autism, the authors said, with around half of adults with autism having little community contact and participating in segregated work or activity settings.
The study is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Source: Vanderbilt University