Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

writing for parents of the bravest hearts

Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

green writing for parents

To work

When Sam graduated high school and got his first job sacking groceries for customers at Albertsons, a dear friend and knowledgeable researcher told me that he would grow up a lot from the experience. He was right. The things you need to grow and be successful on the job, even just organizing your life in a reliable way, are quite demanding.

Sam grew up a lot that first year, thanks to the world of work.

He’s on the cusp of another job search, one that we hope will stick a little better than we’ve been able to do on our own since he graduated from North Central Texas College in December 2012 with his associate’s degree. He’s qualified for the same kind of help that helped him land that first job.

I cannot underscore how important these programs are. Researchers at Vanderbilt and the University of Wisconsin-Madison agree that underemployment is a common among adults with autism like Sam and programs are needed to address the problem. How big? About half of adults with autism — a growing population — spend their days in segregated settings of work, or other activities, with contact with the rest of the community.

Which isn’t good for the community, either, by the way.

What else did those researchers find? Here you go:

More independent work environments may lead to reductions in autism symptoms and improve daily living in adults with the disorder, according to a new study released in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined 153 adults with autism and found that greater vocational independence and engagement led to improvements in core features of autism, other problem behaviors and ability to take care of oneself.

“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.”

Participants averaged 30 years of age and were part of a larger longitudinal study on adolescents and adults with autism. Data were collected at two time points separated by 5.5 years.

Taylor, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looked at such autism symptoms as restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, communication impairments and difficulties with social interactions and found the degree of independence in vocational activities was uniquely related to subsequent changes in autism symptoms, other problem behaviors and activities of daily living.

The results provide preliminary evidence that employment may be therapeutic in the development of adults with autism. Similar to typically developing adults, vocational activities may serve as a mechanism for providing cognitive and social stimulations and enhance well-being and quality of life.

 

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