Skip to main content

A Systematic Review of Psychosocial Interventions for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Abstract

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) spend the majority of their lives as adults, and psychosocial interventions show promise for improving outcomes in this population. This research conducted a systematic review of all peer-review studies evaluating psychosocial interventions for adults with ASD. A total of 1,217 studies were reviewed, only 13 met inclusion criteria. The majority of studies were single case studies or non-randomized controlled trials, and most focused on applied behavior analysis or social cognition training. Effects of psychosocial treatment in adults with ASD were largely positive ranging from d = 0.14–3.59, although the quantity and quality of studies is limited. There is substantial need for the rigorous development and evaluation of psychosocial treatments for adults with ASD.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baker, D., Valenzuela, S., & Wieseler, N. (2005). Naturalistic inquiry and treatment of coprophagia in one individual. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 17(4), 361–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37–46.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baron-Cohen, S., Riviere, A., Fukushima, M., French, D., Hadwin, J., Cross, P., et al. (1996). Reading the mind in the face: A cross-cultural and developmental study. Visual Cognition, 3(1), 39–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 42(2), 241–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bölte, S., Feineis-Matthews, S., Leber, S., Dierks, T., Hubl, D., & Poustka, F. (2002). The development and evaluation of a computer-based program to test and to teach the recognition of facial affect. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 61(Suppl 2), 61–68.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bradley, E., Summers, J., Wood, H., & Bryson, S. (2004). Comparing rates of psychiatric and behavior disorders in adolescents and young adults with severe intellectual disability with and without autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(2), 151–161.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brereton, A. V., Tonge, B. J., & Einfeld, S. L. (2006). Psychopathology in children and adolescents with autism compared to young people with intellectual disability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(7), 863–870.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Broadstock, M., Doughty, C., & Eggleston, M. (2007). Systematic review of the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 11(4), 335–348.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Prevalence of autism spectrum disordersAutism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 14 Sites, United States 2008. Surveillance Summaries, MMWR 2012; 61(No. 3).

  • Esbensen, A. J., Greenberg, J. S., Seltzer, M. M., & Aman, M. G. (2009). A longitudinal investigation of psychotropic and non-psychotropic medication use among adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(9), 1339–1349.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Faja, S., Webb, S. J., Jones, E., Merkle, K., Kamara, D., Bavaro, J., et al. (2012). The effects of face expertise training on the behavioral performance and brain activity of adults with high functioning autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(2), 278–293.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gantman, A., Kapp, S. K., Orenski, K., & Laugeson, E. A. (2012). Social skills training for young adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders: A randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 1094–1103.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ganz, M. L. (2007). The lifetime distribution of the incremental societal costs of autism. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 161(4), 343–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • García-Villamisar, D., & Dattilo, J. (2010). Effects of a leisure programme on quality of life and stress of individuals with ASD. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 54(7), 611–619.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • García-Villamisar, D., & Hughes, C. (2007). Supported employment improves cognitive performance in adults with Autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51(2), 142–150.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gerhardt, P., & Lainer, I. (2011). Addressing the needs of adolescents and adults with autism: A crisis on the horizon. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 41(1), 37–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Golan, O., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006). Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to recognize complex emotions using interactive multimedia. Development and Psychopathology, 18(02), 591–617.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hedges, L. V., & Olkin, I. (1984). Nonparametric estimators of effect size in meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 96(3), 573–580.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herbrecht, E., Poustka, F., Birnkammer, S., Duketis, E., Schlitt, S., Schmötzer, G., et al. (2009). Pilot evaluation of the Frankfurt Social Skills Training for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 18(6), 327–335.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., & Rutter, M. (2004). Adult outcome for children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(2), 212–229.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2(3), 217–250.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levy, A., & Perry, A. (2011). Outcomes in adolescents and adults with autism: A review of the literature. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(4), 1271–1282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Littell, J. A., Corcoran, J., & Pillai, V. (2008). Systematic reviews and meta-analysis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Matson, J. L., Benavidez, D. A., Compton, L. S., Paclawskyj, T., & Baglio, C. (1996). Behavioral treatment of autistic persons: A review of research from 1980 to the present. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 17(6), 433–465.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClannahan, L. E., MacDuff, G. S., & Krantz, P. J. (2002). Behavior analysis and intervention for adults with autism. Behavior Modification, 26(1), 9–26.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, M. E., & Hemmes, N. S. (2003). Increases in social initiation toward an adolescent with autism: Reciprocity effects. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 24, 453–465.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moore, T. R. (2009). A brief report on the effects of a self-management treatment package on stereotypic behavior. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 695–701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Odom, S. L., Boyd, B. A., Hall, L. J., & Hume, K. (2010). Evaluation of comprehensive treatment models for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(4), 425–436.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rehfeldt, R. A., & Chambers, M. R. (2003). Functional analysis and treatment of verbal perseverations displayed by an adult with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36(2), 259–261.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenthal, R. (1984). Meta-analytic procedures for social research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seltzer, M. M., Shattuck, P. T., Abbeduto, L., & Greenberg, J. S. (2004). Trajectory of development in adolescents and adults with autism. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 10(4), 234–247.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shabani, D. B., & Fisher, W. W. (2006). Stimulus fading and differential reinforcement for the treatment of needle phobia in a youth with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39(4), 449–452.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shattuck, P. T., Wagner, M., Narendorf, S., Sterzing, P., & Hensley, M. (2011). Post-high school service use among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 165(2), 141–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomas, K. C., Morrissey, J. P., & McLaurin, C. (2007). Use of autism-related services by families and children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(5), 818–829.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trepagnier, C. Y., Olsen, D. E., Boteler, L., & Bell, C. A. (2011). Virtual conversation partner for adults with autism. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(1–2), 21–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Turner-Brown, L., Perry, T., Dichter, G., Bodfish, J., & Penn, D. (2008). Brief report: Feasibility of social cognition and interaction training for adults with high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1777–1784.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wing, L., & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9(1), 11–29.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants to Nancy J. Minshew and Shaun M. Eack from the NIMH (MH-85851), Department of Defense (AR100344), NCRR (RR-24154), Autism Speaks, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lauren Bishop-Fitzpatrick.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bishop-Fitzpatrick, L., Minshew, N.J. & Eack, S.M. A Systematic Review of Psychosocial Interventions for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 43, 687–694 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1615-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1615-8

Keywords

  • Asperger’s
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Treatment
  • Therapy