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Challenge at Work May Ease Adults' Autism Symptoms

Finding counters the notion that difficult behaviors are hard to alter in these patients


About 50 percent of adults with autism spend their time in sheltered settings, and a minority work in the community, according to Taylor. Most have trouble holding steady jobs, she added.

For the study, the researchers tracked the behavioral development and activities of 153 people with autism spectrum disorder over a five-year period. Their average age was about 30.

The data came from a larger study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which followed 400 families with adolescents with autism over 10 years. Data were collected at two different points in time almost six years apart. Data came from the primary caregiver -- 150 were mothers and three were fathers.

The researchers found that having greater vocational independence and engagement was related to reduction in autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. It was also associated with improvements in daily life activities.

An expert in autism spectrum disorders who was not involved in the study said the results were not surprising.

"This study suggests that, as with nondisabled individuals, a more positive work experience can have many important associated benefits downstream," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.

If the research can be replicated, Adesman said it suggests greater emphasis needs to be given to helping adults with autism spectrum disorder find as independent and engaging a work environment as possible.

Taylor said the key point for parents of adults with autism spectrum disorder is to understand the value of getting the best possible vocational placement for their son or daughter and advocating for it.

"If it's a terrible fit, in ability or in what interests them, it won't work out," she said. "But a job can have lasting behavioral impact across the lifespan."

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