Life-Skills Coaching Reduces Anxiety Around Goals and Improves Functional Skills Among Adults on the Autism Spectrum

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
A. Hillier1, N. Poto2, A. Frye1 and M. Santangelo1, (1)Psychology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA, (2)Autism/Aspergers Network (AANE), Watertown, MA
Background:  The lack of services for adults on the autism spectrum is of considerable and growing concern. Given the complicated profile of ASD, individualized approaches can be particularly effective. Specifically, one-on-one mentoring is an intervention model which holds promise for this population.

Objectives:  This study examined the life goals adults with ASD had set for themselves such as employment related goals, independent living, social skills etc., and evaluated the efficacy of a life skills coaching / mentoring program in reducing anxiety and increasing confidence surrounding these goals, as well as improving functional skills.

Methods:  Participants were 322 young adults on the autism spectrum enrolled in a life skills coaching program run by a non-profit organization (Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) in Massachusetts). Participants’ goals were coded by two independent raters in to one of eight categories: employment, social skills, academic, executive functioning, independent living, health/fitness/wellbeing, self-insight, and self-advocacy. To examine change in anxiety and confidence towards goals across time, we selected data from a subset of participants who had completed measures for at least three consecutive time points (measures were taken every 8 weeks). We also examined whether coaching led to an increase in functional skills over time in five different areas: social / communication skills, executive functioning / daily living skills, self-awareness, employment, and college.

Results:  Our results showed the majority of participants had employment related goals, followed by independent living, executive functioning and social skills related goals.  Participants demonstrated significant increases in goal related confidence over time, and significant decreases in anxiety. Regarding functional skills, participants rated themselves as significantly improving over time in all five areas measured.

Conclusions: Adults on the autism spectrum set themselves a broad range of life goals. Increased confidence and decreased anxiety around these goals can be fostered in a relatively short period of time using a one-on-one coaching model. These results support the efficacy of life-skills coaching / mentoring programs for adults with autism spectrum disorders for whom individualized intervention approaches might be key to successful outcomes in adulthood.