a woman at work on the phoneApproximately half of adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unemployed, but new research from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that employment can be beneficial for adults on the spectrum. In a longitudinal study, the researchers assessed adults with autism, evaluating their related symptoms and social behaviors. They observed measurable improvements in the individuals who held independent jobs. This research could provide a critical pathway to improving quality of life for adults with autism.

Data from 153 adults with ASD with an average age of 30 was collected for this study via a larger longitudinal study about adolescents and adults with ASD. The researchers collected data twice—there was a 5.5 year period between assessments—about autism-related symptoms like repetitive behaviors, difficulties in social interaction, and communication impairments.

The results demonstrated a measurable improvement in behavior and daily living skills among adults with ASD who had independent job placements. Furthermore, the degree of independence in the job position was uniquely correlated to subsequent improvements in autism-related symptoms, behavior problems, and day-to-day living. Employment proved to be a good training ground for social abilities and it may be therapeutic for adults on the spectrum.

“The majority of research on autism has focused on early childhood, but autism is a lifelong disorder with impairments that limit quality of life through adulthood … We must continue to examine the factors that promote well-being and quality of life for adults with autism and other disabilities as whole,” stated Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator.

This research is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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