We are reporting back on the latest discussions from INSAR - the world's largest autism research conference. Today we heard how researchers at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington are empowering autistic teenagers to achieve their personal goals with a newly developed intervention – On Target for Life.

We know from previous research that children on the autism spectrum experience challenges with a set of mental skills that help you get things done - called executive function. These challenges seem to increase as autistic children become teenagers. 

What was tested?

On Target for Life aims to improve executive function in young people. Dr Strang and his team co-designed On Target for Life with autistic teenagers, parents and teachers. The intervention takes a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approach, focused on teenagers’ priority to gain more influence over their own lives. 

What does the research show?

Dr Strang reports that teenagers who used On Target for Life showed improvements in flexibility and planning skills, social functioning and anxiety. 

He admits that the initial trial had quite a small number of teenagers involved so we can’t say for sure whether the intervention will work for autistic teenagers more generally. However, the study shows the potential positive impact of interventions driven by the priorities of autistic people and developed together with them and their families.  

Next steps

The team plan to do more research on the intervention, including following up with the teenagers to see if the positive outcomes last over time. They also want to explore how to engage and train parents and teachers in On Target for Life techniques. 

We look forward to sharing more developments from Dr Strang and his team in future.

Get the latest from INSAR 2018 by following our live tweets and listening to our Discover Podcast, bringing you the latest discussions from the conference.