October 16, 2020
Difficulties with social interactions, the hallmark characteristics of autism, usually persist into adulthood, often interfering with individuals’ ability to function in family, educational, work, and community settings. Although a number of interventions have been designed to help children and early adolescents on the autism spectrum with social functioning, very few have been developed that would be suitable for adults beyond their early twenties.
We have developed a novel cognitive-behavioral treatment program to enhance social functioning in late adolescents and adults with ASD, which we have named TUNE In (Training to Understand and Navigate Emotions and Interactions). TUNE In includes individual and group sessions over 17 weekly sessions. TUNE In addresses motivation to interact with others; anxiety that can interfere with social functioning; understanding of social interactions; social skills; and generalization of those skills to community settings. In our pilot data, 20 participants who completed TUNE In showed a significant reduction in overall symptoms of ASD. We are now testing how effective TUNE In is in improving social functioning in a group of adults with ASD in comparison to a control group of adults with ASD who do not go through TUNE In. Together with our collaborators at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we are also using novel measures of treatment outcome, including automated video analysis of motor synchrony between conversation partners. We expect this research to establish a new, evidence-based treatment program to improve social functioning in adults with ASD, as well as a more precise measure of treatment response for autism clinical trials.
Edward S. (“Ted”) Brodkin, M.D. is Associate Professor of Psychiatry with tenure at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the Founder and Director of the Adult Autism Spectrum Program at Penn Medicine. He is also Co-Director of the Autism Spectrum Program of Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been honored by Philadelphia Magazine as a Top Doctor in the Philadelphia region for 14 years, and has been honored as one of America’s Top Doctors by Castle Connolly Medical for the past 13 years. He received his A.B. Magna Cum Laude from Harvard College and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He did his residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in neuroscience research at the Yale University School of Medicine, as well as a fellowship in genetics research at Princeton University. His research lab and clinical program at the University of Pennsylvania focus on social neuroscience and the autism spectrum in adults. He is co-author of the forthcoming book Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections.