Recent SARRC Study Highlights Need for Teen-to-adult Services

SARRC Research

Recently, SARRC researchers published results of a study that underscored the need to provide services for teens with autism as they transition into adulthood.

SARRC researcher Nicole Matthews, Ph.D., led the study, with help from her co-authors in research, Elena Pollard, Sharman Ober-Reynolds, Janet Kirwan, Amanda Malligo, and Christopher Smith. 

Matthews highlights key details of the study:

  • Study goals: "First, we wanted to replicate previous research regarding strengths and weaknesses in cognitive functioning among children with autism. Secondly, we wanted to compare cognitive functioning to different areas of adaptive functioning among children with autism. (Adaptive functioning is characterized by the age-appropriate skills necessary to live independently.) We examined adaptive communication skills, such as listening to instructions; daily living skills such as getting dressed; and social skills such as sharing toys when asked.”
  • What we learned: "Our findings suggest more differences exist in cognitive functioning patterns between children with autism who do and do not have an intellectual disability than among the children with and without a history of language delay. This lack of variance between language-onset groups is significant because it supports recent revisions that had re-categorized diagnoses such as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and PDD-NOS into a single category, Autism Spectrum Disorder. ​We also found that children with ASD without intellectual disability had considerably higher IQ scores than adaptive functioning scores, and this difference was larger for older children than younger children. This suggests that children are developing cognitive skills at a faster pace than they are developing adaptive skills. Children with ASD of average to above-average intelligence demonstrated very poor adaptive functioning skills, especially with daily living skills. Thus, children with the cognitive capability to succeed academically and vocationally appear to lack age-appropriate skills, such as dressing, food preparation, and safety skills, to function independently. “
  • Why it matters: ​"These findings indicate the need for early and lifelong interventions that address all realms of adaptive functioning to prepare children and adolescents with ASD for the transition to adulthood and independent living." 

Results were published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.