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Characterization and Utilization of Preferred Interests: A Survey of Adults on the Autism Spectrum

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Abstract

This descriptive study examined the role that preferred interests played in an adult population with autism spectrum disorders—how preferred interests are viewed retrospectively during childhood, as well as how adults on the spectrum have incorporated these interests into their current lives. Results showed that participants have a positive view of preferred interests, view preferred interests as a way to mitigate anxiety, and engage in vocational and avocational pursuits around their preferred interests. Findings support a strength-based view of preferred interests with the majority of participants articulating that their areas of interest were positive, beneficial, and should be encouraged.

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... The child is understood in terms of having highly preferred and hyper-focused interest, often with anxiety experiences, sensory sensitivities and/or fine motor challenges (Coyne 2014). The discourse of 'normal development' can manifest in parents' experiences raising a child with ASD, as parents compare their children to 'abstract notions of universal developmental stages' (Avdi, Griffin, and Brough 2000, 245-246;Dunn et al. 2013;Koenig and Williams 2017). Likewise, in the broader community, and with professionals, children with ASD may be compared against the 'norm' , including in areas of play and leisure (Goodley and Runswick-Cole 2010), and focus can be biased towards assessment, intervention and therapy to remediate deficiencies relative to norms (Avdi, Griffin and Brough 2000;Jordan 2003). ...
... In response to remediation-driven interpretations of ASD, both researchers (for example , Bumiller 2008;Dunn et al. 2013;Koenig and Williams 2017;Potter 2016aPotter , 2016b and people with ASD (for example, Robison 2007;Walker 2012) are shifting towards understanding ASD in terms of neurodiversity whereby ASD is interpreted as part of human diversity (Jaarsma and Welin 2012; Silberman 2015; Walker 2014, para. 6). ...
... Autistic children's interests, often pathologically characterized as obsessions, inappropriate, rigid or restricted, are being recast by adults with ASD and researchers in strengths-based terms of 'niche' or 'preferred' interests or special interest areas (SIA) (Koenig and Williams;Winter-Messiers 2007). When children/youth with ASD (aged 7-21 years) talked about their SIA, they showed greater facial affect, enthusiasm, emotion, increased intelligibility in speech and their responses were more complex (Winter-Messiers 2007). ...
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Anchored in critical disability studies, we used a narrative methodology to study fathers’ stories of play interactions with their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Three narratives convey how father–child interactions unfold and how patterns of interaction respond to, redefine and resist societal norms. Narratives of action demonstrate fathers’ responses to societal norms, while narratives of adjustment depict how fathers have redefined expectations of their children in the context of play. Narratives of acceptance demonstrate fathers’ attunement to, and acceptance of, their children’s preferred play interests and a resistance to play norms. We argue that fathers’ stories represent a step towards emancipating play for children with ASD in that fathers’ appreciation of their children’s quirky play accentuates the relational and social capabilities of children, thus countering deficit interpretations of the abilities of children with autism more broadly.
... Other accounts, however, which employ terms such as "preferred interests" (Koenig & Williams, 2017), or "absorbing interests" (Winter, 2012), imply a disposition which ought not to be pathologised, although this distinction in terminology is not clear, with some reports portraying a predominantly positive view of the interests of autistic children and adults using terms such as "restricted interests" (Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016;Mercier et al., 2000), or "fixations" (Sinclair, 2012). Nevertheless, as my own research findings indicate, broadly non-pejorative terms such as "interests", "strong interests", "intense interests" etc. are more suitable to describe the phenomenon I will now explore. ...
... Such a disposition can lead to self-taught expertise, for example (Mottron, 2011), and so is associated with a high level of skill and even savant abilities (Mottron et al., 2013). Being able to develop strong interests can therefore constitute a potential route to employment (Koenig & Williams, 2017;Wittemeyer et al., 2011) and help create the possibility of a fulfilling adult life (Grove, Hoekstra, Wierda, & Begeer, 2018;Jones et al., 2008) providing, inter alia, a sense of well-being, opportunities for personal growth, social learning and development (Koenig & Williams, 2017;Mercier et al., 2000). ...
... Such a disposition can lead to self-taught expertise, for example (Mottron, 2011), and so is associated with a high level of skill and even savant abilities (Mottron et al., 2013). Being able to develop strong interests can therefore constitute a potential route to employment (Koenig & Williams, 2017;Wittemeyer et al., 2011) and help create the possibility of a fulfilling adult life (Grove, Hoekstra, Wierda, & Begeer, 2018;Jones et al., 2008) providing, inter alia, a sense of well-being, opportunities for personal growth, social learning and development (Koenig & Williams, 2017;Mercier et al., 2000). ...
Article
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Having intense or “special” interests and a tendency to focus in depth to the exclusion of other inputs, is associated with autistic cognition, sometimes framed as “monotropism”. Despite some drawbacks and negative associations with unwanted repetition, this disposition is linked to a range of educational and longer-term benefits for autistic children. Meanwhile however, and notwithstanding efforts on the part of school staff to provide support, the inclusion of autistic children in the school curriculum and additional activities is poor. Therefore, in this article, by employing empirical examples from a case study based in five mainstream primary schools in England, and elucidated via thematic analysis, I consider the role and functions of the strong interests of the 10 autistic children who participated, incorporating the views of school staff (n = 36), parents (n = 10) and a sample of autistic adults (n = 10). I delineate how the school staff responded to the intense interests of the autistic children and argue how accepting this cognitive trait can be related to a range of educational, social and affective advantages for the children, as well as less effortful, more empathetic and skilled support on the part of school staff, including a reduction in prompting and task repetition. Furthermore, by suggesting comparisons with the interests and motivations of all children in school, I posit that autistic children in particular, and all children in general, might gain from a deeper cognisance of this trait, which could therefore be incorporated profitably into curricular and pedagogical practices.
... Individuals with ASD often display a favorable approach to their special interests, emphasizing their positive implications on self-image, social skills, emotions, abilities and well-being (Winter-Messiers 2007; Koenig and Williams 2017;Grove et al. 2018). McDonnell and Milton (2014) associate special interests (and other repetitive activities) with the aspired feeling of 'flow': a form of intense engagement and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi 1975). ...
... In the employment arena, it is also suggested that special interests could and should be used to promote labor market integration (Koenig and Williams 2017;Winter-Messiers et al. 2007;Kirchner and Dziobek 2014;Grandin and Duffy 2008). The finding that youth with ASD have clear ideas linking their special interests to dreams of future professional careers (Winter-Messiers 2007), further supports the association between special interests and work. ...
... SDT of motivation has been widely researched in work contexts in the general population (Gagné and Deci 2005;Gagné et al. 2015), establishing practical implications and interventions for promoting desirable employment outcomes. Previous studies on special interests, pointed to SDT as a theoretical framework that can promote an understanding of the origins and underlying mechanisms of special interests of individuals with ASD (Grove et al. 2016;Koenig and Williams 2017;Grove et al. 2018). Thus, SDT has the potential to promote our understanding of factors related to employment integration of adults with ASD in general, and shed light on the complex relationship between special interests and work in particular. ...
Article
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A course of action often suggested in an attempt to improve employment outcomes of adults with autism spectrum disorder, is to match between special interests and job opportunities. In this commentary, we propose that the match may be more complicated than it seems, possibly overseeing more pressing employment needs that should be answered such as: the job’s characteristics, labor market demands, and stress resulting from job expectations. Self determination theory of motivation is suggested as a lens through which the association between special interests and a paying job can be examined, highlighting important considerations that hold the potential to increase employment success. Recommendations for new research directions and vocational rehabilitation practice are discussed.
... Indeed, the tendency to focus on specific topics or aspects of the environment (i.e., SIs) may be a manifestation of perceptual differences that contribute to intellectual functioning to a greater degree than in NT individuals (Mottron 2017). There are other advantages to SIs in individuals with ASD, such as providing opportunities for social interaction and connectiveness around shared interests, and promoting well-being (Grove et al. 2018;Klin et al. 2007; Koenig and Williams 2017). Some research suggests that SIs may help individuals with ASD make sense of the social world by applying the same methods of learning about SIs to learning about social interactions (Klin et al. 2007). ...
... Some research suggests that SIs may help individuals with ASD make sense of the social world by applying the same methods of learning about SIs to learning about social interactions (Klin et al. 2007). Individuals with ASD self-report that SIs often facilitate social interactions with others with similar interests, generate positive emotions and coping strategies, provide a skill base for later employment, and induce a sense of pride and general well-being (Grove et al. 2018;Jordan and Caldwell-Harris 2012;Koenig and Williams 2017;Mercier et al. 2000;Teti et al. 2016;Stratis and LeCavalier 2013;Trembath et al. 2012;Winter-Messiers 2007). In a sample of adults with ASD, the majority (96.2%) surveyed felt that SIs should be encouraged in children and that their own SIs had facilitated positive outcomes in their own lives (Koenig and Williams 2017). ...
... Individuals with ASD self-report that SIs often facilitate social interactions with others with similar interests, generate positive emotions and coping strategies, provide a skill base for later employment, and induce a sense of pride and general well-being (Grove et al. 2018;Jordan and Caldwell-Harris 2012;Koenig and Williams 2017;Mercier et al. 2000;Teti et al. 2016;Stratis and LeCavalier 2013;Trembath et al. 2012;Winter-Messiers 2007). In a sample of adults with ASD, the majority (96.2%) surveyed felt that SIs should be encouraged in children and that their own SIs had facilitated positive outcomes in their own lives (Koenig and Williams 2017). ...
Article
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Special interests (SIs) are part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Though they can have both positive and negative effects on functioning and long-term outcomes, research on SIs is limited. This pilot study used a newly developed parent-report measure, the Special Interest Survey, to characterize SIs in 1992 children with ASD. The mean number of current special interests reported was 9, with television, objects, and music being most commonly endorsed interests. The mean age of onset reported across all categories was 5.24 years, with duration of past interests most often exceeding 2 years. Age of onset, interference, and relative unusualness of the SI was varied across categories. Interference was significantly correlated with the unusualness of the SIs.
... Individualised strength-based approaches have been proposed as particularly suited to supporting adolescents with ASD (G. Lee & Carter, 2012). Mounting evidence points to the efficacy of these approaches when exploring vocational possibilities (Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017), during transition planning (Hatfield et al., 2017), in mentoring programs (Lucas & James, 2018), and work experience (E. Lee et al., 2019). Many of these programs focus on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) related activities, due to the wide recognition of alignment between ICT tasks and the strengths of individuals with ASD (de Schipper et al., 2016;Diener et al., 2016a, b;Mottron et al., 2006;Spek & Velderman, 2013;Wei et al., 2013). ...
... Incorporating students' interests into the activities themselves was a strategy employed across programs included in this review, being a well-documented approach in motivating individuals with ASD to engage in activities (Asaro-Saddler et al., 2015;Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016;Jung & Sainato, 2015;L. K. Koegel et al., 2010;Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017). Similar to leveraging shared interests, interest-based activities enable the development of social and communication skills (Ashbaugh et al., 2017;Campbell & Tincani, 2011;Daubert et al., 2014;Dunst et al., 2012;R. ...
Article
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Strength-based programs that incorporate technology have gained increasing popularity as an approach to improve outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite this, the core elements of strength-based technology programs remain poorly described. This study aimed to identify the core elements of strength-based technology programs for youth with ASD through a systematic review of the literature. Electronic databases were searched for qualitative studies delivering strength-based technology-driven interventions to youth on the spectrum. Ten of the 874 studies identified met the criteria. Qualitative analysis revealed three core elements of strength-based technology programs for this population: mutual respect, demonstrating skills, and interests. The findings underpin the design of future strength-based technology programs for youth with ASD.
... These have been informed by scholarly research and grey literature from the autism community and were collated by an autistic author (R.M.), and supported by two autism researchers (A.J.O.W. and H.W.). The language recommendations in Table 1 are supported by, and should be considered alongside, other publications that provide lists and discussions of autistic-preferred terminology ii [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]. ...
Article
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The past three decades have seen a major shift in our understanding of the strong links between autism and identity. These developments have called for careful consideration of the language used to describe autism. Here, we briefly discuss some of these deliberations and provide guidance to researchers around language use in autism research.
... The pupils in this study also revealed a desire for social interaction and kinship, in contrast to the commonly held view that autism is denoted by an inability to socialise (McConnell 2002). Here too, supporting the interests of autistic pupils has been shown to provide important benefits in terms of socialisation at school (Gunn & Delafield-Butt 2016), a phenomenon which extends into adulthood (Koenig & Williams 2017;Grove et al. 2018). Indeed, mutual interests, including computer games such as Minecraft, can enhance social relationships for those who find it difficult to interact in face-to-face situations, creating a safe space for autistic people to express themselves (Ringland et al. 2017;Zolyomi & Shmalz 2017). ...
... More recent research indeed emphasizes their positive role in learning [20,21], quality of life, and possibly language development [22,23]. This positive view is also expressed by autistic adults when they describe their own intense interests [24][25][26]. ...
Article
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Background The distinction between autism and Asperger syndrome has been abandoned in the DSM-5. However, this clinical categorization largely overlaps with the presence or absence of a speech onset delay which is associated with clinical, cognitive, and neural differences. It is unknown whether these different speech development pathways and associated cognitive differences are involved in the heterogeneity of the restricted interests that characterize autistic adults. Method This study tested the hypothesis that speech onset delay, or conversely, early mastery of speech, orients the nature and verbal reporting of adult autistic interests. The occurrence of a priori defined descriptors for perceptual and thematic dimensions were determined, as well as the perceived function and benefits, in the response of autistic people to a semi-structured interview on their intense interests. The number of words, grammatical categories, and proportion of perceptual/thematic descriptors were computed and compared between groups by variance analyses. The participants comprised 40 autistic adults grouped according to the presence (N = 20) or absence (N = 20) of speech onset delay, as well as 20 non-autistic adults, also with intense interests, matched for non-verbal intelligence using Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Results The overall nature, function, and benefit of intense interests were similar across autistic subgroups, and between autistic and non-autistic groups. However, autistic participants with a history of speech onset delay used more perceptual than thematic descriptors when talking about their interests, whereas the opposite was true for autistic individuals without speech onset delay. This finding remained significant after controlling for linguistic differences observed between the two groups. Conclusions Verbal reporting, but not the nature or positive function, of intense interests differed between adult autistic individuals depending on their speech acquisition history: oral reporting of intense interests was characterized by perceptual dominance for autistic individuals with delayed speech onset and thematic dominance for those without. This may contribute to the heterogeneous presentation observed among autistic adults of normal intelligence. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13229-017-0155-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
... Indeed, parents of children with ASD report that the accommodation needed to manage circumscribed interests and behaviors is among the biggest challenges they encounter on a day-to-day basis (Mercier, Mottron, & Belleville, 2000;South et al., 2005). Thus, although CIs offer positive benefits to many individuals with ASD, providing reward and pleasure (Dichter et al., 2010;Sasson, Dichter, & Bodfish, 2012), areas of unique strength (Mercier et al., 2000), and can in some cases create avenues to specialized skills and vocational ability (Koenig & Hough, 2017), they are clinically-relevant in ASD because they can impair daily functioning and interfere with the development of social skills (Turner-Brown et al., 2011). The BAP, however, is not a clinical diagnosis and therefore is not presumed to be clinically impairing. ...
Article
Background The Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) refers to mild characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that extend beyond the threshold of diagnosis into the general population. Individuals with BAP traits exhibit reduced social skill and social cognitive ability relative to individuals without these traits, but the degree to which non-social aspects of ASD extend to the BAP has received considerably less attention. The current study examined whether a prominent non-social characteristic of ASD, circumscribed interests (CIs), are qualitatively similar in the BAP. Method Typically-developing adults (N = 174) categorized as either BAP positive (n = 49) or BAP negative (n = 125) on the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire rated their subjective emotional responses to images of common CIs and non-CIs (i.e., interests not commonly reported in ASD). Participants also completed the Interests Scale measuring the number of their current interests and the intensity with which they pursue their primary interest. Results BAP positive adults rated CIs more arousing (i.e., more energizing) and non-CIs lower on valence (i.e., less pleasurable) compared to BAP negative adults. Additionally, BAP positive males but not females showed higher valence responses for CIs relative to their BAP negative counterparts. BAP positive adults also endorsed more CIs than BAP negative adults on the Interests Scale, and reported greater intensity and inflexibility when engaging with their primary interest. Conclusions These findings suggest that many aspects of the content and function of CIs reported for autism extend to the BAP in the general population in a milder form.
... Importantly, however, CI in ASD can also confer significant benefit for individuals with ASD. Not only can they be a great source of pleasure (Sasson et al. 2012), but they also can serve as an area of strength and expertise (Mercier et al. 2000) that is observable at the neurobiological level (Grelotti et al. 2005;Foss-Feig et al. 2016) and in some cases lead to specialized skills and abilities (Koenig and Hough 2017). CI also can provide opportunities for individuals with ASD to socially engage with others (Mercier et al. 2000), a phenomenon which may be particularly relevant to females with ASD, as they often report their CI as a defining feature of their identity (Bargiela et al. 2016). ...
Article
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Recent studies suggest that circumscribed interests (CI) in females with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may align more closely with interests reported in typical female development than those typically reported for ASD males. We used eye-tracking to quantify attention to arrays containing combinations of male, female and neutral images in elementary-aged males and females with and without ASD. A number of condition × sex effects emerged, with both groups attending to images that corresponded with interests typically associated with their biological sex. Diagnostic effects reported in similar studies were not replicated in our modified design. Our findings of more typical attention patterns to gender-typical images in ASD females is consistent with evidence of sex differences in CI and inconsistent with the “Extreme Male Brain” theory of ASD.
... CI can also serve as areas of strength and benefit leading to opportunities for social engagement with others (Mercier et al., 2000). In some cases, CI allow the individual to develop specialized skills and abilities that may benefit society and lead to employment opportunities (Patten Koenig and Hough Williams, 2017). Finally, just as hobbies and interests in typical development do, CI provide pleasure to individuals with ASD (Sasson et al., 2012). ...
Article
Purpose Sex differences in circumscribed interests (CI) may delay diagnosis for females with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); therefore, it is important to characterize sex differences in CI to determine if differential approaches to diagnostic assessment are warranted for females with ASD. The purpose of this paper is to examine sex differences in parent-reported quantity, content and functional impairment of children’s interests. Design/methodology/approach Parent responses to the Interests Scale were analyzed using descriptive statistics and ANOVAs to determine diagnostic (ASD vs typical development (TD)) and sex differences between four groups of children ages six to ten years: ASD males, ASD females, TD males and TD females. Findings Groups were comparable on the quantity of interests reported on the Interests Scale. Children with ASD demonstrated significantly more nonsocial interests and had greater functional impairment associated with their interests than TD children. A significant diagnosis×sex effect was found for the number of interests in folk psychology. Descriptively, males with ASD were more likely to have a primary interest in the traditionally male category of physics than females with ASD whose primary interest mainly fell into the categories of TV or the more traditionally female category of psychology. Originality/value These findings strengthen the results of Turner-Brown et al . (2011) by replicating their findings that children with ASD have more nonsocial interests and greater functional impairments related to their interests compared to TD children in a sample that is balanced on biological sex. However, there are distinctions between males and females with ASD in their primary interests that have implications for diagnostic assessment.
... In a larger girl's high school, I no longer had friends through a special shared interest. Shared interests are an important avenue for teenagers on the autism spectrum to make friends [20,21]. In ninth-grade, at the age of 14, I was kicked out of school for throwing a book at a girl who called me a retard. ...
Article
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I was born in 1947 and had autism with speech delay until age four. I am now a college professor of animal science. Horse activities enabled me to make friends through a shared interest in horses. This paper describes the benefits that I experienced from working with horses and my friendships and work skills. A close friendship developed with another student through both riding and horse craft projects. Keeping employment is a serious problem for many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The responsibility of caring for horses and cleaning stalls every day taught me good work skills. My experiences suggest that there were valuable outcomes from working with horses. This may be a beneficial intervention to include in programming for youth with ASD.
... Incorporating interests in strengths-based programs can lead to better outcomes for the participants (Winter-Messiers 2007) and is an important component of strengths-based programs to provide a successful experience for the participants (Jones et al. 2018). The strengths-based programs in this study enabled the students to focus on their preferred interests, which can be a great motivator helping the students feel more confident, boosting their self-esteem and making them feel more comfortable and connected to those around them (Koenig and Williams 2017;Kryzak and Jones 2014). Through the strengths-based programs, participants were enabled to further develop their skills in areas that they were passionate about, which could ultimately lead to meaningful occupation (Hough and Koenig 2014). ...
Article
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Autistic individuals often possess strengths and abilities. Despite these strengths, employment outcomes for this population remain low. Strengths-based programs, focusing on developing skills in a supportive environment, may enable autistic adolescents to more effectively prepare for the workforce. This study explores the principal components and associated outcomes of a strengths-based program designed to support autistic children and adolescents to develop interests and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The baseline results of 52 parents of autistic youth participating in a 3-year longitudinal survey study were explored, with results showing that according to parents the program positively impacted participants’ sense of belonging, confidence and self-esteem, health and well-being, social relationships and interactions, and activities and participation.
... Specifically, Davenport and colleagues have found Autism spectrum is a common developmental condition characterized by persistent social and communication difficulties, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of interests, activities, and behavior (World Health Organization [WHO], 2022). There is a growing recognition that people on the autism spectrum also have unique strengths (Pellicano & den Houting, 2022), such as an ability to systemize, good attention to detail, or intrinsic motivation to pursue their interests (Baron-Cohen et al., 2009;Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017), and those strengths should be leveraged in planning support for autistic individuals (Lanou, Hough, & Powell, 2012). ...
Article
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The study examined the efficacy of the Polish adaptation of the PEERS® curriculum for adolescents on the autism spectrum. Twenty-nine adolescents (aged 11–16) were randomized into a Treatment and a Waitlist Control Group. Due to COVID-19-related restrictions, the Treatment Group received part of the intervention online (in hybrid mode). Results showed large effects of PEERS® increasing the teens’ social skills, knowledge about social skills, and the number of get-togethers with peers. Most of the effects were maintained over a six-month follow-up period. There was no impact of the delivery mode on the treatment effects. The study demonstrates the feasibility and efficacy of the Polish adaptation of PEERS® and encourages future research on the online/hybrid delivery of Social Skills Training.
... Temple Grandin describes the importance of helping a child with ASD to find their strengths (Grandin, 2011), and indeed RIs can be leveraged to improve social functioning in ASD intervention contexts (Kasari et al., 2006;Boyd et al., 2007;Schertz and Odom, 2007). RIs have also been shown to be positive targets for therapy (Charlop-Christy and Haymes, 1996;Carnett et al., 2014;Patten Koenig and Hough Williams, 2017) and can positively affect social abilities when they are incorporated into treatment (Boyd et al., 2007;Koegel et al., 2012Koegel et al., , 2013Harrop et al., 2019). The Early Start Denver model, for example, is an approach that aims to develop skills by rewarding pro-social behaviors during early developmental periods when repurposing of neural pathways is most likely (Dawson et al., 2010). ...
Article
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Restricted interests (RIs) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are clinically impairing interests of unusual focus or intensity. They are a subtype of restricted and repetitive behaviors which are one of two diagnostic criteria for the disorder. Despite the near ubiquity of RIs in ASD, the neural basis for their development is not well understood. However, recent cognitive neuroscience findings from nonclinical samples and from individuals with ASD shed light on neural mechanisms that may explain the emergence of RIs. We propose the nexus model of RIs in ASD, a novel conceptualization of this symptom domain that suggests that RIs may reflect a co-opting of brain systems that typically serve to integrate complex attention, memory, semantic, and social communication functions during development. The nexus model of RIs hypothesizes that when social communicative development is compromised, brain functions typically located within the lateral surface of cortex may expand into social processing brain systems and alter cortical representations of various cognitive functions during development. These changes, in turn, promote the development of RIs as an alternative process mediated by these brain networks. The nexus model of RIs makes testable predictions about reciprocal relations between the impaired development of social communication and the emergence of RIs in ASD and suggests novel avenues for treatment development.
... Thirty-five years ago, Lovaas, the initiator of applied behavioral intervention for autistic children, claimed that repetitive behaviours and interests such as hyperlexia had to be suppressed in favor of more socially acceptable behaviours, because they hindered learning appropriate activities, such as playing and communication (Lovaas, 1981;p.350-351). As recently as 2013, the Denver model asserted that stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests did not favor learning and hindered the practice of new competences (Rogers and Dawson, 2010), despite the now well-known link between specific interests and special abilities in autism (Mottron et al., 2013a) and reports from autistic adults saying that their interests are beneficial and should be encouraged (Koenig and Williams, 2017). If hyperlexia is part of the language learning sequence of autistic children, attempting to replace it by typical instruction is likely to not succeed. ...
Article
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Hyperlexia is defined as the co-occurrence of advanced reading skills relative to comprehension skills or general intelligence, the early acquisition of reading skills without explicit teaching, and a strong orientation toward written material, generally in the context of a neurodevelopmental disorder. In this systematic review of cases (N=82) and group studies (including 912 participants of which 315 are hyperlexic), we address: whether the hyperlexic profile is associated with autism and why, whether models of non-autistic reading can teach us about hyperlexia, and what additional information we can get from models specific to autistic cognitive functioning. We find that hyperlexia, or a hyperlexic-like profile, characterises a substantial portion of the autistic spectrum, in which the subcomponents of the typical reading architecture are altered and dissociated. Autistic children follow a chronologically inverted path when learning to read, and make extended use of the perceptual expertise system, specifically the visual word form recognition systems. We conclude by discussing the possible use of hyperlexic skills in intervention.
... Acknowledging such employee strengths facilitates the application of a strengths-based approach to including people with ASD in the workplace. This approach encourages a shift from focusing on impairments towards identifying unique and necessary abilities that individuals with autism might contribute (Grove et al., 2018;Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017). Minimizing the effects of the unique social-communicational and behavioral characteristics of people with ASD and discovering ways to benefit from their strengths call for careful job-demand definition and ongoing creative accommodations. ...
Article
Background, aims and methods: Participation in employment by individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) remains restricted despite their high motivation and evident abilities. Challenges to employment result from personal characteristics and environmental barriers. This phenomenological research explores the accessibility of a competitive work environment according to the perceptions of adults with ASD. Procedures and outcomes: We conducted in-depth interviews with 19 employees with ASD, followed by a thematic content analysis. Three themes emerged: (a) the employees' motivation for employment, (b) challenges and abilities at work, and (c) workplace accessibility (types of accommodations, implementation process). Results and conclusions: The findings contribute a classification of accommodations that addresses the core characteristics of autism-challenges as well as abilities and motivations for employment. Four types of accommodations were identified: job-performance communication, attitudes and interpersonal communication, daily workplace routines, and physical and sensory environments. Hence, this study supports the centrality of environmental factors in successful employment of individuals with ASD. Implications: This study presents an evidence-based foundation for autism-related workplace accessibility. It offers an approach to enhance employees' abilities, strengths, and motivation for employment, as well as to decrease barriers and challenges. The findings may expand organizational policies regarding accessibility and thereby anchor workplace accommodations within organizations' corporate cultures.
... confirmed these observations and provided further evidence about the inherent reward value and potential adaptive value of some of the restricted interests (RIs), for instance, as facilitators for successful educational and vocational outcomes due to the acquired expertise (Grove, Hoekstra, Wierda, & Begeer, 2018;Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017;Harrop, Amsbary, Towner-Wright, Reichow, & Boyd, 2019). However, robust evidence suggests that certain interests may negatively affect both autistic individuals and their families (Anthony et al., 2013;Boyd, Conroy, Mancil, Nakao, & Alter, 2007;Klin, Danovitch, Merz, & Volkmar, 2007;Mercier et al., 2000;Pierce & Courchesne, 2001;South, Ozonoff, & McMahon, 2005;Spiker, Lin, Van Dyke, & Wood 2012;Turner-Brown, Lam, Holtzclaw, Dichter, & Bodfish, 2011). ...
Article
Lay abstract: Despite being highly prevalent among people with autism, restricted and unusual interests remain under-researched and poorly understood. This article confirms that restricted interests are very frequent and varied among children and adolescents with autism. It also further extends current knowledge in this area by characterizing the relationship between the presence, number, and type of restricted interests with chronological age, sex, cognitive functioning, and social and communication symptoms.
... Participants in this study held posts across the mainstream and special school sectors, and a range of roles and subject specialisms was represented. This suggests that, whether or not in a SEND role, autistic school staff could be facilitating inclusion in varied ways, as well as making a broader positive impact on school life by dint of autism-specific skills (Scott et al. 2017;Vincent 2020) and specialist interests (Hendricks 2010;Koenig and Williams 2017;Grove et al. 2018;Goldfarb, Gal, and Golan 2019). Autistic staff can also promote a greater understanding of autism across the whole school community, a factor considered essential if the inclusion of autistic pupils is to become a reality (Ainscow and Sandill 2010;Pellicano, Bölte, and Stahmer 2018). ...
Article
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Despite significant research into the education of autistic children and young people (CYP) and an increased awareness of the employment needs and rights of autistic adults, little attention has been paid to autistic teachers. We discuss findings drawn from an online survey in the UK in which autistic teachers and other autistic education staff (n = 149) describe the lack of understanding, sensory impacts, mental health issues and the complexities associated with revealing an autism diagnosis as a result of their work. These issues can represent significant impediments to either entering or remaining in the school education profession. Positive experiences were also found and, from a social justice perspective, the possibilities of autistic school staff to constitute a role model for autistic CYP and to facilitate their educational inclusion are considered. Future directions in this under-researched area are also discussed. • Points of interest • There is a lack of research into autistic teachers and other autistic school staff. • Autistic school staff experience many difficulties in training, recruitment, job satisfaction and career development. • Participants in our survey wrote that they lack support. They also find the physical environment of schools difficult and can experience mental health issues and prejudice. • Some participants feared sharing the fact that they were autistic at work, but others had positive experiences of doing so. • In the right circumstances, autistic staff in schools can make an important contribution to educational inclusion, particularly of autistic pupils.
... For example, one review of education practices found that incorporating special interests of students with ASD into teaching practices led to gains in learning and social skills (Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016). Other research utilizing interviews of adults with ASD found that engaging in interests had a calming effect on participants, and use their interests in career-focused pursuits (Patten Koenig & Hough Williams, 2017). Dean et al. (2019) found similar results in another short-term study using the SDCDM with adults with intellectual disability. ...
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Recent calls by transition researchers in postsecondary transition have advocated for new approaches to transition services focused on career design, which uses career-related experiences based on a person’s interests to develop goal setting and problem-solving abilities. Youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who often have limited opportunity for career-related experiences, could benefit from career design intervention. This study examined the feasibility of using the Self-Determined Career Design Model (SDCDM) to enhance transition-related outcomes for twenty-five youth and young adults with ASD. Statistically significant gains were seen in goal attainment and occupational performance. This study provides preliminary evidence that the SDCDM can feasibly enhance outcomes for youth and young adults with ASD.
Article
Purpose Reading comprehension is a critical skill for success in academic, social, and vocational settings. However, comprehension problems for readers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often overlooked during the period when most children are learning to read, masked by strong early decoding skills, a good memory for specific facts, and an understanding of concrete content. As students progress through the grades, the content of what they must read to be successful becomes increasingly complex and the comprehension deficit, present but unrecognized from the earliest interactions with text, is revealed. This article provides an overview of how the core deficits of individuals with ASD impact on the reading comprehension and academic success of older students. Conclusion Identification and intervention to address the underlying comprehension deficit has the potential to provide benefit in academic and personal pursuits of adolescent readers with ASD.
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Firsthand accounts add an essential layer to understanding the full scope of RRBIs and their expressions in the lives of individuals with ASD. The content of this chapter is based on qualitative interviews held with individuals with ASD. During the interviews, participants described their perspectives about RRBIs that accompany their daily lives as well as characteristics of RRBIs and patterns of change across the life-span. Subjective meanings and reasons for RRBIs were also described at length forming five central categories: (a) Arousal and attention regulation; (b) sensory regulation; (c) emotional regulation; (d) providing a sense of security and coping with unexpected changes in routine; and (e) managing social communication and social interaction. The chapter addresses the central role of sensory and emotional regulation in RRBIs and suggests implication for daily functioning. Mainly, findings highlight the importance of differentiating between RRBIs that interfere with participation in daily life and should therefore be reduced, and those that may assist functioning, and should thus be accepted as they promote participation in everyday life. Expanding knowledge about RRBIs, their subjective meanings, and their positive aspects can help destigmatize attitudes towards individuals with ASD, offer appropriate accommodations and facilitate integration in social, academic and vocational environments.
Article
Background: Strength-based technology clubs for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have become increasingly popular; however, they remain poorly described in the literature. Before the impact and benefit of strength-based technology clubs can be measured, consistency in their design and delivery must be established. This study aimed to identify the essential components of strength-based technology clubs by exploring context, mechanisms, and outcomes of existing strength-based technology clubs. Method: Twenty-three adolescents with ASD (mean age 12.96 years, SD = 1.86, range = 10–18 years), 25 parents (mean age 46.08 years, SD = 8.27, range = 33–69 years), and 20 facilitators (mean age 27.93 years, SD = 6.55, range = 20–46 years) were purposively sampled from three established strength-based technology clubs. Data were obtained via ethnographic methods, including participant observations, interviews, and focus groups. Data analysis was underpinned by a realist evaluation, which provided the context-mechanism-outcome framework. Results: Data analysis revealed that strength-based technology clubs had four context themes (personal factors of adolescents, personal factors of facilitators, personal factors of parents, institution), three mechanism themes (activity design, strengths and abilities, environment), and three outcome themes (skill building, connection with others, emotion). Conclusion: The results highlighted the importance of understanding the personal context of adolescents, providing an individualized approach, leveraging individual interests, and modifying the environment to suit the individual. The findings contributed to defining a strength-based approach within ASD, and have demonstrated that positive outcomes can be achieved by focusing on strengths rather than deficits. Future ASD services can use the results as a framework for applying a strength-based approach. The efficacy of newly designed strength-based programs can then be tested.
Article
Objective: There has been a steady rise in research characterizing executive functioning (EF) impairments in autistic individuals but limited research investigating EF strengths. This review provides a summary of current EF research in autistic adults with a focus on EF challenges and strengths and potential sources of heterogeneity in research findings. New avenues for addressing gaps in our understanding of EF strengths are proposed. Method: A review of the EF literature was conducted. One hundred twenty-four studies of inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility, fluency, planning, decision-making, and subjective measures of EF in autistic adults were included. Results: Autistic adults with average intellectual functioning demonstrate difficulties with cognitive flexibility, phonemic fluency, and working memory. Strengths in planning, decision-making, and semantic verbal fluency were evident in some but not all studies. Findings regarding inhibition are inconclusive. Key findings across each EF domain are discussed and sources of potential heterogeneity across studies were evaluated. The type of measure used appears to contribute to heterogeneous findings. Subjective EF measures revealed more consistent findings of deficits in autistic adults than objective EF measures. Conclusions: Research reveals areas of EF weaknesses as well as strengths in autistic adults. Unlike EF challenges, EF strengths are not well understood. Future research identifying EF strengths is needed to improve services and supports for autistic adults. Further investigation of potential factors that interact with or constrain EF such as comorbid disorders, verbal ability, sensory processing, and other factors specific to autism will be critical to move the field forward and increase understanding of how EF is related to everyday functioning in autistic adults.
Article
Autism is both a medical condition that gives rise to disability and an example of human variation that is characterised by neurological and cognitive differences. The goal of evidence-based intervention and support is to alleviate distress, improve adaptation, and promote wellbeing. Support should be collaborative, with autistic individuals, families, and service providers taking a shared decision-making approach to maximise the individual's potential, minimise barriers, and optimise the person–environment fit. Comprehensive, naturalistic early intervention with active caregiver involvement can facilitate early social communication, adaptive functioning, and cognitive development; targeted intervention can help to enhance social skills and aspects of cognition. Augmentative and alternative communication interventions show preliminary evidence of benefit in minimising communication barriers. Co-occurring health issues, such as epilepsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders, sleep problems, and mental health challenges, should be treated in a timely fashion. The creation of autism-friendly contexts is best achieved by supporting families, reducing stigma, enhancing peer understanding, promoting inclusion in education, the community, and at work, and through advocacy.
Article
Importance: Recent years have seen a shift to strengths-based approaches promoting self-determination and career-related interests among autistic youth. Research is needed to understand the career-related goals set by autistic youth on the basis of their interests. Objective: To descriptively explore the career design goals set by autistic youth engaged in the self-determined career design model (SDCDM) intervention. Design: Content analysis was used to analyze the types of goals set by youth during intervention. Two researchers separately reviewed the goal set by each autistic youth (one goal per youth) and determined categories for each goal. Setting: Preferred community location (usually the youth’s home) in an urban Midwestern city. Participants: Twenty-one autistic youth. Intervention: SDCDM. Outcomes and Measures: Participants set goals as part of the SDCDM, which were recorded using Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS). Researchers used GAS to support each participant in setting a measurable and objective goal and describing criteria for meeting the goal. Results: Categories included enhancing self-management, obtaining employment, exploring career opportunities, enhancing learning, and enhancing self-advocacy. Conclusions and Relevance: The findings from this study indicate that autistic youth set goals related to obtaining employment and enhancing generalizable 21st-century skills, such as self-advocacy and self-management. What This Article Adds: The SDCDM is a tool occupational therapy practitioners can use to support youth in setting and working toward career goals.
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Lay summary: Autistic adults reported having special interests in a range of topics, including computers, music, autism, nature and gardening. Special interests were associated with a number of positive outcomes for autistic adults. They were also related to subjective wellbeing and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure. Very high intensity of engagement with special interests was related to lower levels of wellbeing. This highlights the important role that special interests play in the lives of autistic adults.
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A process evaluation was conducted to determine the effectiveness, usability, and barriers and facilitators related to the Better OutcOmes & Successful Transitions for Autism (BOOST-A™), an online transition planning program. Adolescents on the autism spectrum (n = 33) and their parents (n = 39) provided feedback via an online questionnaire. Of these, 13 participants were interviewed to gain in-depth information about their experiences. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. Four themes were identified: (i) taking action to overcome inertia, (ii) new insights that led to clear plans for the future, (iii) adolescent empowerment through strengths focus, and (iv) having a champion to guide the way. The process evaluation revealed why BOOST-A™ was beneficial to some participants more than others. Trial registration #ACTRN12615000119594
Article
Adolescents on the autism spectrum often have difficulties with the transition from high school to postschool activities. Despite this, little is known about the transition planning processes for this group. This study explored predisposing, reinforcing and enabling factors related to the transition planning processes for adolescents on the autism spectrum in Australia. The PRECEDE model guided a needs assessment, in which descriptive data about transition planning processes were collected via an online questionnaire from adolescents on the autism spectrum, their parents and professionals (N = 162). Predisposing factors included: an individualised and strengths-focused approach, and adolescent motivation, anxiety and insight. Reinforcing factors included: support and guidance, skill development and real-life experiences. Enabling factors were: having a clear plan with a coordinated approach, scheduled meetings and clear formal documentation. Whilst some factors aligned with recommendations for transition planning for adolescents with disabilities in general, there were some autism-specific factors. For example: anxiety, motivation and insight were important predisposing factors, and providing choice and flexibility was an enabling factor.
Article
Background Despite the motivation and proven abilities of many autistic people, their employment rate remains low. This gloomy status relates to complex interactions between personal and environmental characteristics. The goals of this study, which were grounded in the person-environment-occupation (PEO) model, were to determine PEO characteristics that correlate with work participation of autistic people and to identify which PEO characteristics best predict the work performance and related self-efficacy of autistic people. Methods Forty-seven employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and no cognitive disabilities receiving support services were recruited via a convenience sample. Each participant completed self-report assessments to evaluate personal, occupational, and work environmental characteristics, as well as work performance and related self-efficacy assessments. Spearman's correlations were used to establish the associations between the variables, and forward stepwise regression to reveal the characteristics that predict work performance and self-efficacy of employees with autism. Results Significant correlations were found between work participation and each of the PEO model's dimensions. The person dimension (specifically, the repetitive and restricted behaviors and interest characteristic and other social characteristics in the workplace) was the most significant dimension explaining work participation of employees with autism, Conclusion Analyzing employment through the PEO theoretical model may contribute to understanding the work-related challenges autistic employees face. Such understanding may assist in establishing evidence based employment-intervention programs to improve their work performance and work-related self-efficacy.
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This pilot study evaluated a novel intervention designed to reduce social anxiety and improve social/vocational skills for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The intervention utilized a shared interest in robotics among participants to facilitate natural social interaction between individuals with ASD and typically developing (TD) peers. Eight individuals with ASD and eight TD peers ages 12-17 participated in a weeklong robotics camp, during which they learned robotic facts, actively programmed an interactive robot, and learned "career" skills. The ASD group showed a significant decrease in social anxiety and both groups showed an increase in robotics knowledge, although neither group showed a significant increase in social skills. These initial findings suggest that this approach is promising and warrants further study.
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Research suggests that incorporating the circumscribed ritualistic interests of children with autism as a theme of activities can improve their socialization. The current study assessed whether socialization would improve if more general interests of children on the autism spectrum that would also be of interest to their typical peers were incorporated into activities. Three children with autism, who were included in regular education classes but did not seek out or interact with peers prior to intervention, participated. Data were collected in the context of a multiple baseline across-participants design, with a reversal for one child. Activities that were identified to be of interest to the study participants and their typical peers were implemented as clubs twice weekly during regular lunchtime periods. Results showed that all three children demonstrated large increases in their time engaged with peers as a result of the activities, with minimal training of the interventionist and without any specialized training of the children with autism or their peers. Furthermore, their untargeted verbal initiations greatly improved over baseline levels and often approximated the levels of their peers. Implications for further improving peer social interactions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are discussed.
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To explore how restricted interests are perceived by individuals with pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) and their relatives, 18 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with six high-functioning individuals with PDD, their parents and/or siblings. Results revealed that restricted interests play a significant role in the person’s life that is acknowledged by most of their relatives. They provide a sense of well-being, a positive way of occupying one’s time, a source of personal validation, and an incentive for personal growth. However, these positive dimensions are counterbalanced by their negative consequences. Following the demands and the support from their environment, the participants in the study reported to have involved themselves in an active process to adapt, reduce or diversify their restricted interests. These findings on transformation of restricted interests under development and social pressure may have theoretical (for cognitive models of autism) and clinical consequences (in their use for rehabilitation).
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Circumscribed interests are a fascinating and an understudied phenomenon in some individuals with autismspectrum disorders (ASD). Research in this area is likely to contribute to our understanding of ASDs and to advancing developmental knowledge on learning processes used to adapt to the demands of everyday social life. This study reports on a survey of special interests in 96 children and adolescents with higher functioning ASD. The survey included listing of up to three special interests for each child, and the rating of level of interference of a given interest upon children's activities when by themselves and when in contact with family members, peers, and other adults. This information was collected for both preschool and elementary school years. Special interests were classified into eight categories in terms of their nature (rather than topic), which included the ways through which the interest was manifest and pursued. Results indicated that circumscribed interests (a) are the norm rather than the exception in this population (75 and 88 of the sample for the younger and the older age periods, respectively), (b) most frequently involve verbal learning and memorization of facts (65 and 81 for the younger and the older age periods, respectively), (c) often involve an element of interest in letters and numbers in the preschool years (35 of the sample), (d) greatly interfere with activities pursued by oneself or with others, and (e) level of interference is predictive of lower social and communicative adaptive behavior later in life. Given the ubiquity of circumscribed interests in this population, their verbal nature, and the passion that children with ASD invest in these pursuits, we suggest the need for studies that will trace the longitudinal course of learning profiles from early childhood and possible interventions that may address these areas.
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Abstract Special interests are frequently developed by individuals with autism spectrum disorder, expressed as an intense focus on specific topics. Neurotypical individuals also develop special interests, often in the form of hobbies. Although past research has focused on special interests held by children with autism spectrum disorder, little is known about their role in adulthood. The current study investigated differences in the content, number, and specificity of the special interests held by adult individuals with autism spectrum disorder and neurotypical individuals, using Internet discussion forums as a data source. Quantitative analysis of forum posts revealed significant differences between the diagnostic groups. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder reported having more interests in systemizing domains, more specific interests, and a greater number of interests overall than neurotypical individuals. Understanding special interests can lead to the development of educational and therapeutic programs that facilitate the acquirement of other important social and communication skills.
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Circumscribed interests (CI) are important and understudied symptoms that affect individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The present study sought to develop quantitative measures of the content, intensity and functional impairment of CI in 50 children with high-functioning ASD compared to an age-, IQ-, and gender-matched sample of 50 typically developing (TD) peers. The Interests Scale, a parent-rating questionnaire, and the Interview for Repetitive Behaviors, a semi-structured interview, were used to assess CI. Groups did not differ on the number of interests children held, but they did differ on types of interests and impairment associated with them. The interests of ASD participants were more likely to be nonsocial in nature (e.g. mechanical systems) than TD participants. Parents of children with ASD endorsed higher degrees of functional impairment on metrics including frequency, interference, resistance when interrupted, flexibility, and accommodation required, as well as less involvement of other people, than parents of children with TD. These findings suggest that interests of individuals with ASD differ qualitatively and in intensity from individuals with TD. The present study offers further support for the notion that CI reflect a clinically significant feature of ASD that warrants intervention in some children.
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Many children with autism show very little interest in academic assignments and exhibit disruptive behavior when assignments are presented. Research indicates that incorporating specific motivational variables such as choice, interspersal of maintenance tasks, and natural reinforcers during intervention leads to improvements in core symptoms of autism and may possibly be effective in academic areas. Using a multiple baseline across children and behaviors design with four pre- and elementary school children with autism, we assessed whether the above variables could be incorporated into academic tasks to improve performance and interest. Results indicated that the intervention decreased the children's latency to begin academic tasks, improved their rate of performance and interest, and decreased their disruptive behavior. Theoretical and applied implications are discussed.
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Human beings can be proactive and engaged or, alternatively, passive and alienated, largely as a function of the social conditions in which they develop and function. Accordingly, research guided by self-determination theory has focused on the social-contextual conditions that facilitate versus forestall the natural processes of self-motivation and healthy psychological development. Specifically, factors have been examined that enhance versus undermine intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and well-being. The findings have led to the postulate of three innate psychological needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness--which when satisfied yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished motivation and well-being. Also considered is the significance of these psychological needs and processes within domains such as health care, education, work, sport, religion, and psychotherapy.
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This study compared the effects of circumscribed interests (CI) to less preferred (LP) tangible stimuli on the social behaviors of three children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Based on single subject design methodology, the CI experimental sessions resulted in longer durations of target-child initiated social interactions in comparison to LP sessions. In addition, latency of participant's initial social bids to peers was decreased when CI were present. The results suggest that embedding CI into dyadic play situations with typical peers can be used to increase the social behavior children with ASD direct toward typical peers. Future research should examine the specific environmental conditions that must be present in naturalistic settings to facilitate generalization of social behavior.
Article
The third edition of the Framework, available online at http://otjournal.net, reflects internal and external changes to occupational therapy practice, emerging concepts, and advances in the field.
Article
Joint attention occurs when two people engage in eye contact, verbalizations, or gestures between each other and a common object for the purpose of social interaction. Interventions which embedded participant’s circumscribed interests (i.e., specific topics or themes of abnormal intensity) in materials found increases in joint attention without direct intervention. Previous joint attention intervention successfully taught three children with autism to respond to others’ joint attention directives using interventions with circumscribed interest-related materials. However, initiating joint attention and generalization across materials and settings were not addressed. The current study investigated the effectiveness of prompt fading and reinforcement while engaging in circumscribed interest-related activities on initiating joint attention for three children with autism. All children acquired joint attention initiations; however, only two did so while engaging with circumscribed interest-related materials. Participants demonstrated variable generalization across activities, partners, and settings. Parents reported declines in circumscribed interest-related social interference from pre- to post-intervention. Results suggest teaching joint attention initiations using circumscribed interest-related materials to teach joint attention initiations may be an effective strategy for some children with autism. Future research implications are discussed.
Article
Students on the autism spectrum present with difficulties in a variety of areas, including social understanding, emotional regulation, academics, and behavior. Professionals working in the field of autism must identify and address these areas of need given each individual child’s specific cognitive profiles. In this article the authors highlight not only the importance of addressing these areas of difficulty but also the significance and power of recognizing and incorporating each child’s unique strengths, interests, and talents to accomplish this. The authors present strategies created for individual students with autism spectrum disorders in upper elementary classes that capitalized on the students’ authentic interests and strengths as a way of meeting their school-based challenges. Through these passions, the authors were able to tap into students’ own motivation and true abilities, laying the foundation for success.
Article
The purpose of this exploratory study was to evaluate the impact of special interest areas on children and youth with Asperger syndrome (AS) and their families. The research team conducted interviews about special interests with 2 girls and 21 boys with AS, ages 7 to 21, who were eligible for services under autism and enrolled in an extended school year program. The team also received written surveys from 18 parents. Strong positive relationships were found between special interests and improvements in students' social, communication, emotional, sensory, and fine motor skills. Based on these findings, the researcher created a strength-based model of AS and special interests that emphasizes the critical need for teachers to understand and value the special interests of these students and the impact on their families.
Article
Various explanations have been offered in the literature on the underlying cause of joint attention deficits in autism. One possible explanation is that children with autism are capable of producing joint attention but lack the social motivation to share their interests with others. The current study used a single-subject reversal design with alternating treatments to examine whether joint attention initiations for social sharing would occur as a collateral effect of utilizing the motivational techniques of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) in conjunction with perseverative interest stimuli for three young nonverbal children with autism. Results indicated an immediate increase in joint attention initiations when perseverative, or highly preferred, interests were incorporated within the motivational techniques of PRT. Additional findings included collateral increases in joint attention initiations toward less preferred interests, as well as improvements in the quality of interaction between the children and caregivers. Findings are discussed in terms of theoretical and clinical implications for understanding the role of motivation in the development of joint attention in autism.
Article
This article presents one of the principal theories to emerge from a larger exploratory study. The research team conducted intervieWs about special interests With 23 participants With Asperger syndrome (AS), ages 7 to 21, Who Were eligible for services under autism and enrolled in an extended school year program. The authors also obtained Written surveys from 18 parents. A strong positive relationship Was found betWeen engagement in special interest areas and individual strengths in areas typically seen as AS deficits, including communication, social, emotional, sensory, fine-motor, executive function, and academic skills. A revieW of the strength-based model of AS and special interests is folloWed by practical ideas for effectively incorporating special interest areas into school, home, and community.
Article
The rise in the number of children With autism poses challenges to professionals in the field of early care and education. The restricted patterns of communicating, relating, and behaving seen often in children With autism necessitate a sophisticated approach to assessment. There is an increasing need in the field to use alternative assessment approaches in order to alloW professionals to interact and communicate With the child on multiple levels. Assessment approaches that provide the child With choices yield data that go beyond confirmation of a diagnosis to include information about suitable educational and therapeutic interventions and programming outcomes as Well as ideas to support functioning in the natural environment. This article describes an innovative approach to assessing a girl With autism. The approach includes incorporating interests and a structured schedule.
Article
[Clin Psychol Sci Prac 17: 281–292, 2010] This article considers the nosology and pathogenesis of anxiety disorders in youth with autism. The comparability of anxiety in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) population in relation to the typically developing population has been suggested by some recent findings, but conceptual and empirical ambiguities remain. It is suggested that anxiety may play at least three roles: (a) a downstream consequence of ASD symptoms (e.g., via stress generation through social rejection); (b) a moderator of ASD symptom severity, such that certain core autism symptoms like social skill deficits and repetitive behaviors may be exacerbated by anxiety; and (c) as a proxy of core ASD symptoms. Suggestions for clarifying the nature and function of anxiety in autism are made.
Article
Restricted repetitive behaviors (RRBs) are a core feature of autism and consist of a variety of behaviors, ranging from motor stereotypies to complex circumscribed interests. The objective of the current study was to examine the structure of RRBs in autism using relevant items from the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised in a sample of 316 individuals with autistic disorder. Using exploratory factor analysis, three distinct factors were identified: Repetitive Motor Behaviors (RMB), Insistence on Sameness (IS), and Circumscribed Interests (CI). RMB were found to be associated with a variety of subject characteristics such as IQ, age, social/communication impairments, and the presence of regression. IS was associated with social and communication impairments whereas CI appeared to be independent of subject characteristics, suggesting CI may be particularly useful in subsetting samples. Based on sib-pair correlations, IS and CI (but not RMB) appear to be familial. Analysis of the data at the case level suggests that the presence of multiple forms of RRB in an individual is associated with more impairment in the social and communication domains, suggesting a more severe presentation of autistic disorder. There appears to be considerable structure within repetitive behavior in autism. The finding that these behaviors are differentially related to subject characteristics and familiality adds to their validity.
Article
Prospective follow-up study of 70 males with Asperger syndrome (AS), and 70 males with autism more than 5 years after original diagnosis. Instruments used at follow-up included overall clinical assessment, the Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders, Wechsler Intelligence Scales, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, and Global Assessment of Functioning Scale. Specific outcome criteria were used. Outcome in AS was good in 27% of cases. However, 26% had a very restricted life, with no occupation/activity and no friends. Outcome in the autism group was significantly worse. Males with AS had worse outcomes than expected given normal to high IQ. However, outcome was considerably better than for the comparison group of individuals with autism.
Article
To learn about the lives of young adults with ASD, families with children born 1974-1984, diagnosed as preschoolers and followed into adolescence were contacted by mail. Of 76 eligible, 48 (63%) participated in a telephone interview. Global outcome scores were assigned based on work, friendships and independence. At mean age 24, half had good to fair outcome and 46% poor. Co-morbid conditions, obesity and medication use were common. Families noted unmet needs particularly in social areas. Multilinear regression indicated a combination of IQ and CARS score at age 11 predicted outcome. Earlier studies reported more adults with ASD who had poor to very poor outcomes, however current young people had more opportunities, and thus better results were expected.
Harnessing strengths: Daring to celebrate everyone's unique contributions, part 1
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Dunn, W., Koenig, K. P., Cox, J., Sabata, D., Pope, E., Foster, L., & Blackwell, A. (2013, March). Harnessing strengths: Daring to celebrate everyone's unique contributions, part 1. Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Section Quarterly Newsletter, American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. 36(1), 1–4.
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Harnessing strengths: Daring to celebrate everyone's unique contributions, part 1. Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Section Quarterly Newsletter
  • W Dunn
  • K P Koenig
  • J Cox
  • D Sabata
  • E Pope
  • L Foster
  • A Blackwell
Dunn, W., Koenig, K. P., Cox, J., Sabata, D., Pope, E., Foster, L., & Blackwell, A. (2013, March). Harnessing strengths: Daring to celebrate everyone's unique contributions, part 1. Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Section Quarterly Newsletter, American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. 36(1), 1-4.