Growing up with Autism: Effectiveness of a Residential Farm Community Treatment in a Cohort of Adults with Low Functioning Autism

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
P. Politi, P. Orsi, M. Besozzi, N. Brondino, U. Provenzani, M. Rocchetti, T. Veglia, M. Boso and F. Barale, Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy
Background: autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are generally regarded as lifelong conditions, although, growing up, individuals with ASDs may show an improvement in different functional and social areas (i.e., behavioral problems, life skills) as well as a reduction in autistic symptoms (i.e., communication and social deficits). Literature data suggest that up to 15–30% of adults with autism will show positive outcomes. Unfortunately, few data are available on clinical outcomes in adults with low functioning autism. This particular group may benefit from residential treatment, provided in particular by farm or agricultural communities, which could represent a lifespan option for these individuals. In fact, animal husbandry as well as horticulture provide a range of different activities which are, however, stable and predictable and thus suitable for patients with autism. Additionally,  the rural environment represent an ideal setting for autistic patients in contrast with urban realities: it is noiseless, less crowded and stressful.  Cascina Rossago is a Italian farm community for adults with low functioning autism founded in 2002. It  comprehend 45 acres of farmland and is home to alpaca and other animals. Cascina Rossago houses 24 permanent residents, which are involved not only in agriculture and livestocking but also participate in carpentry, pottery and textile workshops.

Objectives: the present follow-up study aimed to evaluate clinical changes in a sample of adults with low functioning autism in a residential farm community setting.

Methods: participants were 24 young adults who had received a clinical diagnosis of low functioning autism by a senior psychiatrist.  The Leiter International Performance Scale was used to measure intelligence. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) were used to assess clinical changes in adaptative domains at admission and at follow-up. The VABS is organized within a four  domain structure: Communication, Daily Living Skills, Socialization, Motor Skills. Additionally, all subjects were evaluated with the Autism Behaviour Checklist (ABC), the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS),  the Adaptive Behaviour Scale (ABS) and the Diagnostic Assessment for the Severely Handicapped  (DASH).

Results:  all patients experienced improvement in symptoms and there was a significant increase in all VABS domain (p<0.05).

Conclusions:  farm communities may be an ideal option for people with low functioning autism. These settings seems to foster clinical improvement in this patient group.