Difficult to get helpEven if the young people did recognise that they needed mental health support, 62% of them told us that they had little, if any, confidence in knowing how to access support. And 68% said they lacked confidence in getting appropriate support for their mental health needs. More worryingly, the young autistic people who had accessed mental health support told us how they faced major problems in getting the help they needed. They experienced high levels of stigma – about autism and mental health – and felt that services failed to meet their needs in several ways. For example, the young people explained how there was a lack of services, with lengthy delays to access the services that were available. They also felt that transitions from one service to another were poor. Even more concerning, they reported that services were not tailored to the needs of young autistic people, telling us how staff often did not have knowledge of autism or how to adapt services to best support them. As another young person told us: “I know that there’s no support there, should I need it, and that scares me.” Mental health services in the UK have their failings across the board, but they appear to be particularly lacking when it comes to autism. Young autistic people are especially vulnerable as they move from childhood to adulthood, and services effectively disappear. More services are clearly needed. But we also need to do more to understand the most effective mental health support for these young people. Our research showed that the young people felt most satisfied with their services when professionals took the time to get to know them and their specific needs. Only by listening to and learning from young autistic people – and valuing their “experiential expertise” – can we truly hope to meet the needs of this vulnerable group.
Laura Crane receives funding from the British Academy.
Liz Pellicano receives funding from the European Commission, the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, The Clothworkers' Foundation, Pears Foundation, Autistica and various autism charities.
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