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« A safe place online for children with autism and other disabilities | Main | Two U.S. presidents and an autistic boy »


Teens with autism can thrive when they share their strengths

In a recent blog, we learned how Jacob Wilson, a Vaughan high school student who has autism, overcame elementary school bullies and blossomed in his teen years.

It turns out Wilson's experience is not so uncommon.

A recent American study shows that young people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can thrive as teenagers when they share their intelligence or special interest with peers. 

In Wilson's case, it was his voice, which he parlayed into a regular gig reading the school announcements and eventually used on stage in drama and musical productions. Suddenly he had friends.

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) study, published in the October issue of  the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, found that this ability to make friends shows that the area of the brain that controls social behaviour is not as damaged in teens with ASD as previously believed.

The study, discussed in the online research news site futurity.org quotes study author Robert Koegel describing how restricted interests among teens with ASD can dominate their lives and push people away.

“They're so highly focused on that interest, people think they're weird. But by involving themselves in an activity around the interest, they not only make friends but also become valued members of the group. Their specialized skill becomes a strength,” says Koegel, director of the Koegel Autism Center at UCSB and the study’s lead author.

It is an exciting finding -- proven through Wilson's experience -- that will no doubt give many teens with ASD, and their families, hope for the future.





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The Autism Project

  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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