Do cognitive enhancement therapies improve outcomes in autistic adults?
Recent research reports from the University of Pittsburgh signals a potential breakthrough for adults diagnosed with autism.
Although there have been significant advances in techniques for early detection of the condition and a large number of studies involving the treatment of young children diagnosed with autism, there has been less focus on having interventional programs suited for adults.
As kids with autism progress into adulthood, they experience many challenges like social impairment, poor quality of life and significant underemployment challenges. Authors attribute these challenges to difficulties faced by adults diagnosed with the condition in understanding and processing the information in different stages of adulthood. However, treatments to address these conditions in adults are virtually non-existent.
The researchers during the course of the study tested two treatments:
- Enriched Supportive Therapy (EST)
- Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET)
Cognitive enhancement therapy focuses on assisting adults in understanding and thinking socially through computer-designed exercises. These tasks help individuals diagnosed with the condition improve their attention and problem-solving skills while helping them in enhancing their memory through carefully crafted group exercises. The authors explain that these things help individuals to better understand social situations.
The treatment, which was computer-based, was administered to pairs of an adult with a prior history of autism condition to help them improve neuro-cognitive abilities such as cognitive flexibility and attention span. Participants were required to participate in computerized-therapy sessions for 4 hours per week.
Further, EST was designed to be a one-on-one hour session per week. During the course of the session, participants learned to manage their stress and emotional skills. Participants were further able to work on their social skills while steadily being able to manage their day-to-day problems.
EST is based on traditional principles of psychotherapy practices, for instance, cognitive behavioral therapies, and use them to assist adults diagnosed with autism to become aware of what triggers their stress levels while helping them learn techniques to overcome negative emotions and stress-related signals.
To further gauge the effectiveness of test treatments, participants were randomly assigned either EST or CET treatment.
Participants who were treated with EST showed improvements in social-cognitive behavior. However, it took each participant participating in EST sessions 9 months longer to accrue benefits compared to other participants who were treated with CET. Researchers believe this gives a definitive clue to intensive training being required to fast-track improvement.
Eack states, “Previous treatments and therapies for ASD have been behavior inclined, without a specific focus on core cognitive challenges that gain importance when adults diagnosed with the condition are taken into consideration.
“Autism is more complicated when kids transition into adulthood because a person with the condition faces newer challenges as they progress,” explains Eack.
The ample support networks that children with the condition have, like special education centers and the assistance they receive at every step of the way, is virtually invisible for adults. “We hope the study paves way for better treatments being put in place for autistic adults,” Eack explains.