MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Tjasa Velikonja, PhD
Department of Psychiatry
The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, New York
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Autism is a lifelong condition, and challenges associated with autism persist from childhood into adulthood. Despite this, research and treatment have been largely dedicated to children. Because of that, we had very little understanding of what areas – what cognitive domains – are most severely impacted in adults with autism. Importantly, the lack of such information also limits treatment development in this area.
What is known already is that adults with autism display deficits in social cognition (which refers to the role that cognitive processes play in our social interactions). Although our meta-analysis supported these theories, it also highlighted several other challenges in cognitive processing, such as deficits in processing speed and verbal learning and memory. And these impairments were observed in adults with autism without an overall intellectual disability.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Our findings contribute to the understanding of patterns of cognitive functioning in adults with autism. We observed that adults with autism do not only display deficits in social cognition but also in non-social cognitive areas, like processing speed and verbal learning and memory. This assists in pinpointing what the treatment targets for these individuals should be.
Current interventions for adults with autism are predominantly focused on improving individual adaptive social skills and social functioning, which are challenges mainly related to social cognitive deficits. But, our results also stress the importance of interventions that target broader cognition, such as for example cognitive-remediation therapy.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: We still do not know what are the trajectories of social and non-social cognition in adults with autism over time (from childhood to adulthood). To really understand this, we need studies that will follow individuals over time. This will provide more insight into the progression of deficits related to autism and give us directions to not only how- but also when to intervene.
Disclosures: The study was funded by the Beatrice and Samuel A. Seaver Foundation, the Netherland Organization for Scientific Research and the Brain and Behavior Foundation.
Velikonja T, Fett A, Velthorst E. Patterns of Nonsocial and Social Cognitive Functioning in Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online January 02, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3645