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THURSDAY, May 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- "High-functioning" adults with autism may face significant communication challenges that could make landing a job difficult, new research from Canada suggests.
The finding is based on an audio-analysis that examined the conversational skills of the adults as they embarked on a series of job interviews.
"Our work focused on people with autism who test as well as those without autism when it comes to problem-solving and non-verbal IQ," explained study lead author Wendy Mitchell, a doctoral candidate in the faculty of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
"Yet listeners, who had no experience whatsoever with autism, clearly picked up on communication impairment during job interviews," she added.
"They could just tell something was different here," Mitchell said. "And it had a negative impact on job interview results. Which highlights the simple fact that we need to place focus not just on standardized testing but also on the functional impact of the disability."
Mitchell and her colleagues are scheduled to present their findings this week in Salt Lake City at the International Meeting for Autism Research. Findings presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
To explore how high-functioning adults with autism might come across during a job interview, the study authors audio-recorded employment conversations with 20 of them and with 20 other adults who do not have autism.
All 40 audio-recordings were played for 59 university students, who could not see the job seekers and did not know who had autism and who didn't.
During each playback, the student listeners rated communication quality on a second-by-second basis (on a scale from 0 to 100). The end result was a "job interview map" clearly illustrating conversation highs and lows.
In addition, each listener completed a questionnaire that assessed the amount of information conveyed, the ease with which the listener understood the interviewee, and their take on the quality of the interviewee's back and forth.
Overall, the autism group was judged to have fared significantly worse than the other group.
Specifically, the autism group did notably less well in terms of their use of grammar, vocabulary, speech speed, use of pauses, and patterns of stress and intonation. They also displayed a greater tendency to use overly formal language, to shift or repeat topics abruptly or inappropriately, and to inject irrelevant details, the findings showed.
The result: listeners said they would offer only 30 percent of the autism group a second interview, compared with 75 percent of the non-autism group.
"This points out that our standardized tests may not be sensitive enough to pick up on what might go on in a real-world situation," Mitchell said.
"And by getting a better idea of what's really going on, we will have a better idea of the services we need to provide -- both to provide better vocational support to young adults with autism pre-employment, and to start to develop better acceptance and understanding in the community at large," she added.
Anne Roux, a research scientist with the Life Course Outcomes Research Program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, said the finding "speaks to the importance of speech-language therapy for adults with autism."
Roux pointed out that "we all continue to refine our communication skills in adulthood by observing which topics are appropriate to discuss in the workplace, the vocabulary specific to that job, when to use formalities, and other social language skills."
But, Roux said, "adults with autism don't readily pick up the communication skills needed to get and keep a job simply by listening and watching others. They often need direct teaching of communication skills specific to the workplace and ongoing coaching to avoid pitfalls of inappropriate social language."
Adults with autism suffer from a " 'services cliff' -- a steep drop-off in services for those with autism between high school and adulthood. While 66 percent of students with autism receive speech-language therapy during high school, only 10 percent receive this service in adulthood," Roux explained.
"[But] speech-language therapy is still a vital need even after youth with autism walk out of high school for the last time," she said.
According to a report released last month by the Drexel Institute, only 58 percent of young adults with autism had paid employment in the years between high school and their early 20s.
The "National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood" also showed that more than one-third -- 37 percent -- of young adults with autism were found to be essentially "disconnected" from any job or educational prospects by the end of their early 20s.
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