Impact of Working Together for adults with autism spectrum disorder: a multifamily group intervention

Leann Smith DaWalt, Emily Hickey, Rebekah Hudock, Amy Esler, Marsha Mailick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have lower engagement in their communities, higher rates of unemployment/underemployment, and continued difficulties with challenging behavior compared to their neurotypical peers. Multi-family psychoeducation emphasizes education and problem-solving with the goal of improving these outcomes for the individual with the disability. Methods: Using a randomized waitlist control design, the present study evaluated a multi-family group psychoeducation intervention, Working Together, for adults on the autism spectrum without intellectual disability (n = 40). Five waves of data were collected at 3-month intervals. In this design, families in the intervention condition participated in intervention during the 6 months between baseline and time 3 data collection; the waitlist control condition received the intervention immediately after the time 3 data collection. We compared these two conditions, intervention group (n = 20) vs waitlist control group (n = 20), on key outcomes for the adults with ASD: engagement in work-related activities, engagement in meaningful activities, and behavior problems. Results: Results indicated medium to large effect sizes associated with the Working Together intervention across key outcomes, including adults on the spectrum experiencing significant increases in meaningful activities and decreases in internalizing problems. Although increases in work-related activities were not statistically significant, an observed one-half of a standard deviation difference from before to after the intervention indicated clinically significant change. We also found maintenance of the treatment effect through 6 months post-treatment for the intervention group and replication of the treatment effect within the control group after they received the intervention. Conclusion: Working Together is a promising multi-family group psychoeducation intervention designed to improve functioning during adulthood. These findings highlight the need for more intervention services research during adulthood and specifically the need for family-centered supports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalJournal of neurodevelopmental disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R34 MH104308, L. DaWalt, PI) as well as from grants from Autism Speaks (7523, L. Smith, PI) and the National Institute on Aging (R01AG08768, M. Mailick, PI). We are also grateful for the support we received from the Waisman Center (U54 HD090256, Q. Chang, PI) and UW-Madison’s Clinical and Translational Science Award Program for community intervention research (supported in part by grant U21 RR025011).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Adulthood
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavior problems
  • Multi-family group psychoeducation
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder/therapy
  • Humans
  • Adult
  • Intellectual Disability

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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