Programs are out there to help young adults with autism find and keep a job. But no one yet knows whether they work, according to a study. Here is what was said:
Combing the medical literature for evidence on the question, researchers were able to find only five studies. All were generally low-quality, the team reports in the journal Pediatrics.
“There's startlingly little information on the best ways to help adolescents and adults with autism achieve their maximum potential in the workplace and across the board,” says lead study author Julie Lounds Taylor.
Taylor and her colleagues at Vanderbilt University sifted through more than 4,500 studies that made reference to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and therapies and found only 32 studies published between January 1980 and December 2011 that met their basic criteria, including having at least 20 study participants between the ages of 13 and 30.
But some studies were in children with autism; a lot of them were descriptive and didn't really test an intervention; and a fair number weren't really studies at all but commentaries, according to Taylor.
In the end, the researchers found only five studies that focused on vocational interventions. While this handful of studies looked at certain on-the-job programs designed to support young adults with autism and suggest these “interventions” can improve quality of life and reduce symptoms of autism, the study authors concluded, “all studies were of poor quality.”
They say these studies had serious flaws including the randomization or comparison groups, which makes it difficult to draw any conclusions. Lack of follow-up and the fact that most studies were small also contributed to the researchers' deeming the quality of the research as poor. The study was published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, says she finds it remarkable that only five studies that address vocation skills were published in the last three decades and all were of poor quality.
“There is a tremendous knowledge gap regarding how to help young people with autism be successful in the work environment,” Dawson says.
In January 2011, Lee Grossman, then president of the Autism Society, told CNN that these young adults are generally unemployed, living in poverty. “Their ongoing needs are not being addressed,” he said.
Given these statistics, finding ways to help young adults support themselves and continue to thrive becomes even more urgent. Taylor thinks this new research could be a possible wake-up call.
“We need more funding to do research,” she says. That research would help determine which vocational programs will work for which person with autism given the range of the spectrum, a range that spans “someone who can go to college to someone who has severe intellectual disabilities.”
Taylor is hopeful that the research landscape will change and that there will be far more useful data collected in the coming decade compared to the last three. Autism Speaks as well as the National Institutes of Health have already launched several studies focused on improving quality of life for adults with autism.
Full article available here.