OXFORD, Miss. – A doctoral student in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has conducted the first U.S. study on quality of life among adults with autism.
Krutika Jariwala-Parikh, who graduated in May with a Ph.D. in pharmacy administration, wrote her dissertation on “Quality of Life and Health Care Utilization and Costs among Adults with Autism.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Jariwala-Parikh’s study focuses on how the disorder affects adults – the first of its kind.
Rahul Khanna, assistant professor of pharmacy administration, and Donna West-Strum, professor and chair of pharmacy administration, worked with Jariwala-Parikh on the project. Both faculty members were co-chairs on her dissertation committee.
“While I was exploring potential dissertation topics in the autism area, Dr. Khanna suggested looking at adults with autism,” Jariwala-Parikh said. “After doing a detailed literature review in that area, I realized that very few studies focused on outcomes among adults with autism.”
Khanna, who has previously conducted autism-related research, helped Jariwala-Parikh with various facets of the study such as conceptualization and data analysis. They acquired data by surveying autistic adults who were registered with the Interactive Autism Network. The surveys sought to determine whether coping technique, social support, severity of autism and functional independence had an impact on the respondents’ quality of life.
Jariwala-Parikh found that how adults cope with autism has a profound influence on their quality of life. Her dissertation outlines three key areas where family and friends of individuals with autism can play an essential role: helping with social support, functional independence and coping.
“The results of the study suggest that better coping abilities, social support and functional independence can lead to better quality of life among adults with autism,” Jariwala-Parikh said. “Some of the negative effects of severity of autism can also be reduced if better coping and social support is provided to these individuals. The results of this study can direct clinicians and family members’ focus on issues, which are modifiable and can be improved – such as better social support and coping – to ensure better health among this population.”
The study is timely, as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed an autism insurance reform bill into law March 26.
“I commend Dr. Jariwala-Parikh and her colleagues for focusing on such an important topic,” West-Strum said. “Her study provides insight into the types of interventions needed to improve quality of life in patients with autism.
“It is exciting to see how this research provides support for the Mississippi autism insurance reform bill. It will be important for researchers to continue this research to advance patient care for autism patients.”
Khanna agreed that the research has great potential to influence policy and patient care.
“We feel that policymakers, health care practitioners and family members could use our results to better assist individuals with autism in improving their quality of life,” he said. “Health care practitioners could emphasize the provision of support and the use of positive coping when providing treatment to individuals with autism. Policymakers could invest in developing interventions that teach autistic individuals about positive coping techniques.”
The study was funded through grants from the Organization for Autism Research and the UM Graduate Student Council. Jariwala-Parikh commended those who helped her with the project.
“I’d like to extend thanks to my co-chairs and other faculty members in the pharmacy administration department,” she said. “I would especially like to acknowledge all of our study respondents for their participation.”