Research Summary: Youth with Autism and Intellectual Disability are Less Involved in Community Activities than Youth with Intellectual Disability Alone
by Ami Tint
What you need to know:
Youth with autism and intellectual disability participate in a similar number of community activities, and about as often, as youth with intellectual disability only. However, youth with autism are less involved in the community activities in which they participate; environmental features, such as social demands, may be barriers to community participation.
What is this research about?
Community participation is related to many positive outcomes in the general population; however, many youth with autism and youth with intellectual disability do not often participate in their communities, or only participate in a limited range of activities. This study aimed to better understand the participation of youth and young adults who have both autism and intellectual disability, compared to those with only intellectual disability.
What did the researchers do?
The researchers surveyed 212 family caregivers of youth and young adults registered with Special Olympics Ontario. To be included in this study, youth needed to be between the ages of 11 and 22 years. Youth were mainly (68%) male and were, on average, 16 years old. There were no differences in demographic characteristics (e.g., age, sex) or Special Olympics participation between youth with and without autism.
Caregivers were asked questions about their child’s frequency of participation and level of involvement in 10 community activities (e.g. neighbourhood outings, religious or spiritual gatherings and activities). They were also asked about whether particular environmental features (e.g. sensory qualities of settings; social demands of activities) and resources (e.g., public transportation, available community programmes) helped their child’s participation or made it more difficult.
What did the researchers find?
There were no differences in how often youth participated in community activities, or in the number of different community activities. However, youth with autism were reported to have lower levels of overall involvement in the community activities in which they participated, compared to youth with only intellectual disability. Caregivers of youth with autism identified more environmental barriers, and rated social demands and peer relationships as barriers to their children’s participation more frequently, than those of youth with only intellectual disability. Both groups of parents rated unavailable or inadequate programmes and services as the most frequent barrier to their children’s community participation.
The researchers caution that their sample only included individuals involved in Special Olympics and may not represent the experiences of all youth with autism or intellectual disability. Also, they relied on caregiver report, which may be different from the experiences of youth themselves.
How can you use this research?
This study highlights individual and environmental factors that that may foster community participation among youth with autism and intellectual disability. Psychosocial interventions that involve teaching social skills (e.g. basic conversation skills) as well as environmental interventions aimed at teaching peers and recreational staff how to appropriately interact with youth with disabilities could be a helpful way to improve successful community participation. However, the difference in levels of involvement among youth in this study raises interesting questions about what “successful” participation really means. That is, how often a child with autism participates in community activities may not accurately capture their experience. It will be important for future research to look at different factors influencing meaningful community participation for youth.
About the Researchers
Ami Tint, M.A. and Andrea Maughan, M.A. are graduate students in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Jonathan Weiss, Ph.D., C.Psych, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto, Ontario.
Tint, A., Maughan, A. L., & Weiss, J. A. (2017). Community participation of youth with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 61(2), 168-180.
About the Chair
The Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research is dedicated to studying ways to improve the mental health and well-being of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families in Canada.
The Chair is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, Kids Brain Health Network (formerly NeuroDevNet) and the Sinneave Family Foundation. Additional funds from the Spectrum of Hope Autism Foundation and support from York University.
For more information, visit the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research website at asdmentalhealth.ca.