Examining treatments in teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

As World Autism Day approaches on April 2, The Brock News will run a three-part series highlighting the efforts of three researchers in Brock University’s Centre for Applied Disability Studies, each of whom studies how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be treated in individuals at different stages of the lifespan. This is the third part of the series. 

A Brock University researcher is studying how treatments used on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affect individuals as they get older and move into their teen years.

Julie Koudys, an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Applied Disabilities Studies, along with her co-researchers, is working to determine how adolescents with ASD continue to be affected by the Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) they received as children through Regional Autism Intervention Programs across Ontario.

The study builds on research completed five years ago, which examined outcomes for children with ASD immediately following and a few years after completing IBI. Koudys and her team are now revisiting these same participants 9-15 years after the completion of IBI.

Julie Koudys

Julie Koudys

“Many teens and parents involved in the study were doing well academically, socially and emotionally,” Koudys says of the study’s preliminary findings. “However, just as individuals who are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder represent a diverse population, the ongoing challenges experienced by teens with ASD and their parents are varied.”

For example, access to appropriate services following the completion of IBI is often a challenge, especially for families living outside major cities.

Several parents also identified concerns that their teen was experiencing significant mood and anxiety symptoms — a concern consistent with existing research showing that individuals with ASD are at a higher risk for developing psychiatric diagnoses, such as ADHD or anxiety.

However, while results from prior studies indicate that around 70 per cent of teens with ASD may experience clinically significant mental health concerns, Koudys’s results paint a different picture. Teens who received IBI as children seem to fare better in terms of mental health concerns, about on par with their peers who don’t have ASD.

Koudys and her team are still in the process of analyzing the results, but plan to share their findings at various conferences this spring.

“We are particularly excited to share results at a conference hosted by one of the regional autism providers who participated in the study, which will include a presentation by one of the teen participants and his mother,” Koudys says. “This will allow the clinicians who were involved in the treatment of the study participants to learn about the overall study outcomes, and to hear about the lived experience of one of the teens and his mother.”

The results of the study may help parents understand more about the long-term outcomes of IBI, helping them plan for their child’s transition into adolescence and adulthood.

The findings should also inform service providers about the ongoing needs of teens with ASD and their families as they develop effective services for this population.

In the future, Koudys hopes to continue working with the study participants.

“To date, this is the largest, and longest, IBI long-term follow-up study conducted,” Koudys explains. “Many of the families expressed keen interest in participating in the study in the future. As such, we hope to continue to collect data to explore the outcomes at the completion of high school. We know that this is a difficult time for all teens, but less is known about how young adults who previously received IBI, manage the transition out of high school into adulthood.”

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