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Pitt Study Lays Groundwork To Create Interventions For Adults With Autism

Gene J. Puskar
Masha Gregory, center, takes a polaroid photo of fellow resident Elise Mote, at an apartment complex in Heidelberg, Pa., designed for adults with autism. A new study from Pitt looked at ways to improve communication skills for adults with autism.

There are few options available to adults with autism spectrum disorder who want to improve their social or communication skills, but a study from the University of Pittsburgh that looks at two types of interventions has produced some promising results.

“We think we’re losing a lot of talent, a lot of contributions from people that could do very well in our society if only they had at least a minimum of support," said autism researcher Shaun Eack, a professor at Pitt’s schools of social work and psychiatry. 

This study was published online late last year in the journal of Autism Research. 

Eack divided 54 people with autism into two groups for the 18-month study. The first cohort participated in classes and computer exercises to improve their social and cognitive abilities. The second attended one-on-one therapy. 

Both groups saw improvements, but in different areas. The first improved in learning and interpersonal skills, and also saw an increase in employment from 10.41 percent to 35.98 percent. The second showed greater emotional awareness, but no marked job improvement.

“We actually think in the future perhaps a combination of these two interventions may be the optimal ingredient for helping adults,” said Eack. "Maybe addressing some these cognitive challenges may help address some of the functional limitations people have when they're trying to get work and jobs in the mainstream community. "

The next steps, Eack said, are to confirm and replicate the findings, then create an intervention.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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