Cognitive Enhancement Therapy Shows Promising Results For Autistic Adults

Throughout history, researchers investigating autism have largely focused on helping children. This makes sense, as experts say that early intervention is important to achieving good outcomes, but let’s face it: autistic adults haven’t gotten nearly enough love from scientists looking into therapies and treatments. Yet these individuals are in dire need of support, too.

That’s why a study coming from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and the Department of Psychiatry is so exciting. It tested two different therapeutic techniques—Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) and Enriched Supportive Therapy (EST)—on autistic adults. While more work needs to be done to see if they’re truly effective, they seem promising at this point in time, especially CET.

Photo: Adobe Stock/anyaberkut
Photo: Adobe Stock/anyaberkut

CET involved computer-based activities to improve cognitive abilities like attention and flexibility, as well as small group-based activities to improve upon social understanding. Participants in the study did this three hours per week.

EST, on the other hand, is more along the lines of what you would consider typical psychotherapy—and the practice actually comes from that, too. It involved meeting one-on-one with a therapist for one hour each week to learn emotional and stress management, as well as social skills and coping mechanisms for handling average problems.

To test out these therapeutic techniques, researchers gathered together 54 autistic adults and randomly assigned them to either the CET or EST group. The participants underwent their respective therapies for 18 months.

Photo: Adobe Stock/zinkevych
Photo: Adobe Stock/zinkevych

Social-cognitive improvements were made in both groups. However, it took several months longer for the adults in the EST group to see the same degree of benefits as the CET group, which researchers believe stems from the fact that CET was more intensive. The CET group also showed marked improvement in neurocognitive function, especially in terms of attention and information processing.

According to EurekAlert!, it might just be a “potential breakthrough.”

“Autism can be more complicated for adults because the adult world introduces new challenges,” said lead study author Shaun Eack. “The support networks for children, like special education and other help they receive in school, are simply not there for adults. We hope this study will begin to establish effective treatments for adults with autism.”

This is an exciting step in the right direction. However, research pertaining to adults on the spectrum is still extremely sparse, especially when compared to the whole host of scientific literature on biological factors and children with autism. Considering that adults’ needs are also important, this needs to change. Check out the next page to see how you can help!


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