University of Wisconsin–Madison

Leann Smith DaWalt, PhD – Slide of the Week

Leann Smith DaWalt, PhD Slide of the Week

Title: Impact of the Working Together Intervention for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their Families

Legend: Young adults with ASD in the intervention group experienced a reduction in behavior problems over a six month period. There was no change observed for the control group.

Citation: DaWalt, L. E. S., Greenberg, J. S., & Mailick, M. R. (2017, May). Working Together: Family Education and Support Intervention for Young Adults with ASD. Paper presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, San Francisco, CA.

Abstract: Background – Currently there is increasing interest in developing interventions to support positive outcomes across the lifespan for individuals with ASD. Given the current dearth of formal services for young adults with ASD, especially those without co-occurring intellectual disability, interventions are needed that increase a family’s capacity to find and create informal supports and activities in the community. Addressing this gap, we developed a multi-family group psychoeducation intervention, Working Together, designed for disengaged young adults with ASD and their families. Objectives – The present study aimed to evaluate the impact of Working Together, a multi-family group psychoeducation intervention for young adults with ASD, on (1) behavior problems, (2) frequency of employment, and (3) frequency of social activities. Methods – Data were drawn from the Working Together study. Families of young adults with ASD (n=49) were recruited from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Young adults (18-30 years of age) were eligible to participate if they coresided with their parents, did not have intellectual disability, and had a medical/educational diagnosis of ASD confirmed by administration of the Social Communication Questionnaire. After baseline assessment, families were randomized into an intervention (n=22) or waitlist control condition (n=26). The intervention included 2 individual family sessions, 8 weekly group sessions, 3 monthly group booster sessions, and ongoing resources and referrals. Although group sessions occurred separately for young adults and their parents, session topics were the same and included goal setting, problem-solving, coping strategies, planning for independence, and employment. Adults with ASD and their parents were assessed at baseline and at 3 and 6 month follow up on measures of behavior problems, employment, and social interactions. Families also reported on satisfaction with the program. Results – Young adults in the intervention group showed improvements in behavior problems (see figure) and also frequency of working for pay (26.3% employed at baseline vs 42.1% employed at 6 month follow-up) compared to young adults in the control group, representing medium effect sizes.  There were no significant differences between groups over time for time spent with friends. Additionally, 100% of parents and adults with ASD were satisfied or very satisfied with the intervention program. Exit interview data suggested problem solving and independence were important areas of learning for the young adults. Conclusions – The Working Together intervention was associated with increased paid employment for young adults with ASD as well as improvements in behavior problems, suggesting benefits of family support for adult outcomes. Future research will examine the effectiveness of the Working Together model on quality of life and long-term employment and engagement in adults with ASD.

About the Lab: The Lifespan Family Research program is dedicated to understanding the impact of having a child with a developmental disability on the family as well as the role of the family in supporting healthy development for individuals with disabilities such as ASDs and fragile X syndrome. Smith DaWalt’s work examines trajectories of development for adolescents and adults with disabilities and the contextual factors associated with positive outcomes. Her research also centers on developing and evaluating intervention programming for youth and young adults with ASD. For example, with funding from NIMH, Smith DaWalt is currently conducting a randomized waitlist control trial of a psychoeducation intervention for young adults with ASD and their families. Also, in partnership with colleagues at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and San Diego State University, the lab is employing an implementation science framework to test a comprehensive treatment model for high school students with ASD. This study includes a sample of over 500 students from 60 high schools across the country (including 20 high schools in Wisconsin). Through these efforts, they seek to understand how to best support individuals with disabilities and their families during life course transitions.

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