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03-09-2012 | Psychology | Article

PDAs could help autistic people perform better at work


Free abstract

medwireNews: Personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as the Apple iPod Touch, can provide invaluable assistance to adults with autism by helping them to function well in the workplace, show results from a small case series.

The authors explain that recent research shows that only a small number of US adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are employed, with around 15% reporting having some form of paid work, and only 6% being competitively employed.

"Strategies that provide enlightened workplace supports are clearly needed in order to help people with ASD find useful work and perform successfully on the job," commented lead investigator Tony Gentry (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA) in a press statement.

This is particularly true as "adults with ASD often have valuable assets and strengths that are sought after in the workplace, such as logical and mathematical ability, exceptional computer skills, or photographic memory," he added.

Gentry and team report the outcomes of training three workers with ASD - a 21-year-old man, a 60-year-old woman, and a 20-year-old woman - to use an iPod Touch PDA as a vocational support.

The young man worked as a custodian in a restaurant and was previously having trouble remembering the order in which he was supposed to do tasks and suffered from anxiety and displayed "calming behaviors" such as spinning and humming at work as a result.

Use of a clock-based alert system and a task notes list (written and verbal) on the PDA allowed him to significantly improve his performance and functioning at work and he is still working at the restaurant.

The separate roles of the two women were clerical support worker and hospital cleaner. Positive outcomes were seen for both women after they were given PDAs to help them improve their work. They both used timed alerts, both written and visual (as the younger woman was a nonreader), and found them helpful for task- and time-management purposes.

The older women also used the PDA to help her manage anxiety about late-arriving buses, and used both verbal and visual reminders to help her remember what to do and who to contact if the bus did not arrive on time.

While acknowledging that no direct conclusions can be drawn from this study due to its small size, Gentry concluded: "This is an exciting time for anyone in the fields of education, physical rehabilitation, and vocational support, where we are seeing a long-awaited merging of consumer products and assistive technologies for all."

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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