A new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggests that independent work environments may lead to a reduction in symptoms for adults with autism. We reported briefly in Autism Daily Newscast’s week in review on Sunday.
The study from Vanderbilt University and University of Wisconsin-Madison followed 153 adults with autism, with an average age of 30 years old. Data was collected at two different time periods, with a 5.5 year separation. Results showed that the adults who had greater vocational independence and engagement demonstrated improvements in their symptoms, including restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, communication impairments, and difficulties with social interaction.
Lead researcher Julie Lounds Taylor, Phd., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and Vanderbilt Kennedy investigator, says,
“We found that if you put the person with autism in a more independent vocational placement, this led to measureable improvements in their behaviors and daily living skills overall. 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.”
This study offers preliminary evidence that employment may be therapeutic for adults with autism. Many work environments offer opportunities for individuals to participate in social and cognitive challenges, which can build skills, create connections with others, and enhance self-esteem.
Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for adults with autism, and some studies estimate that as many as 50% of adults with autism are unemployed or under-employed, with little community contact. With the current rate of autism estimated at 1 in 88, there is a large population of children who will be aging out of their childhood support systems in the coming decade.
Providing work opportunities is not only good for the individuals with autism, but also benefits society, as there will be more people who will be able to work and contribute and live self-sufficient, independent lives.
“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. 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.”
Adults with autism face many hurdles when seeking employment. Difficulties with communication and interpersonal skills can make it extremely difficult to make a good impression during the interview process, and inadvertent social gaffes often cause problems on job sites.
Studies like this one highlight the importance of helping adults with autism learn the “soft skills” that can help them obtain and maintain employment, along with the importance of training employers to understand and work around the unique strengths and challenges that employees with autism can bring to the table. With support, adults with autism can be reliable, valuable employees.