NEWS | October 29, 2015

MIND Institute offers program for adults with autism spectrum disorder

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Researchers with the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence and MIND Institute at UC Davis are seeking adult participants, aged 18 to 38 years and diagnosed with or suspected of having autism or Asperger’s disorder, to participate in a research study, the ACCESS Program (Acquiring Career, Coping, Executive-Function and Social Skills Program).

Marjorie Solomon Marjorie Solomon

The program’s goals are to develop social, coping, planning, organizational and advocacy skills among adults with autism, in order to empower them to access community opportunities that they might not otherwise seek.

“There is such a great need to help adults with autism to reach their full potential,” said Marjorie Solomon, UC Davis associate professor and Oates Family Endowed Chair in Lifespan Development in Autism. “We are very excited to be able to offer free services through the generous support of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute, which serves this purpose.”

The program will be held 1½ hours a week for 20 consecutive weeks, and focus on three main domains important to adult functioning: Coping with stress or anxiety; developing social skills; and self-determination skill building (including self-advocacy, initiation, planning, organization, and goal-setting and attainment). Each participant will select a close family member or friend to serve as their “social coach” during the program.

The social coach will participate in a separate support group that will take place at the same time as the adult training group. The coaches will be taught strategies to help the adult with autism apply the skills they are learning to real-world settings.

The adults with autism also will be required to participate in a structured vocational activity (paid or volunteer) of their choice outside the group, in order to practice and refine the skills learned in group. The vocational activity will be at least five hours a week; the research team will help participants find a vocational activity if they are not already engaged in one.

Potential participants must have completed high school, be between 18 and 38 years of age, be diagnosed with or suspected of having autism spectrum disorder or Asperger’s disorder, and have average to above-average verbal abilities.

Enrollees will be prescreened on the telephone. They will complete the enrollment process by visiting the MIND Institute and completing a series of surveys and an interview to verify eligibility. Those found eligible will enter the program in January 2016, or will be assigned to the waiting list for a session that will start in October 2016.

“The goal is to provide adults with autism the foundational skills and strategies to successfully manage the demands of adult life,” said Tasha Oswald, a developer of the ACCESS program and its group leader. “We believe in the importance of having adults with autism actually practice their skills in a real-world vocational setting. This is a service to help adults with autism access their potential and the world around them.”

The study will take place at the MIND Institute, 2825 50th St., Sacramento. Forty-five adults with autism, along with their social coaches, ultimately will participate in this study, with about 10-15 adults with autism per training group. There is no fee for participation. Participants will receive an assessment report, if requested, at the conclusion of the program. For further information, please contact smdavi@ucdavis.edu, 916-734-7801.

In addition to Solomon and Oswald, other program researchers include Robin Hansen, Peter Mundy, Patricia Schetter, Steve Ruder, Sally Rogers and Aubyn Stahmer, all of UC Davis.

The UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif., was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where families, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers work together toward a common goal: researching causes, treatments and eventual preventions and cures for neurodevelopmental disorders. The institute has major research efforts in autism, fragile X syndrome, chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down syndrome. More information about the institute and is available on the Web at mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.