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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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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

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 31, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For adults with autism, having the chance to work somewhat independently may lead to a reduction in symptoms of the disorder, a new study suggests.

The research puts new emphasis on the potential for adults with autism to develop and improve over their lifetimes, said study author Julie Lounds Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.

"We have assumed it's really hard to budge autism symptoms in adulthood. Drugs are targeted to problems like acting out, for example," she said. "But this study suggests that these adults need a place where they're intellectually stimulated, and then we'll see a reduction in symptoms."

The challenge is to find the right fit between a person's abilities and interests and a specific job, she explained.

"How independent can they be and what are the risks of failure? We have to be careful. You're talking about a huge range of people with autism," Taylor said. "I've seen people who can manage pretty high-level jobs, like computer programming or being in the military, while others have more [mental] challenges, but can still work a job in the community with support."

Autism spectrum disorders are a class of neurodevelopmental disorders defined by difficulties with social functioning and communication, according to the researchers. Symptoms include restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions.

The study findings were reported online recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Increasing the level of independence in adults with autism isn't necessarily difficult to do, Taylor said. "We found behavior changes any time you could bump [them] up to doing something a little more independent," she said. "As they get more independent, you see more benefit."

Yet understanding what makes a good fit is a huge challenge, she said. "Insight is one of the characteristics people with autism typically may not have, so we will probably need the person's perspective and then gather information from families, looking at what's available, and incorporating all of that together," Taylor explained.

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