Experts launch pioneering autism and mental health research

Leading researchers from Birmingham are today (25th October 2017) launching a major, new UK study into autism and mental health problems - and are calling for autistic people and their families to get involved.

The research is a collaboration between leading investigators at the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Birmingham, Aston University, and leading UK autism research charity, Autistica.

An estimated 1 in a 100 people in the UK are autistic1,2 - and nearly eight in ten (79%) will experience a mental health problem.3

The research will be the first in the UK to develop an assessment tool to distinguish emotional distress caused by anxiety and depression from distress caused by physical health problems, among minimally verbal autistic people with learning difficulties. Autistic people with learning difficulties are more than 40 times more likely to die from a neurological disorder than the general population - and twice as likely to commit suicide.4

Commenting on the new research, which will be announced at an autism science talk in central Birmingham later today, Dr Jane Waite, Lecturer in Psychology, School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, and one of the study's lead investigators, said: "People living with autism and their families have highlighted that managing mental health problems is their number one priority. But, until now, the mental health needs of autistic people, particularly those with learning difficulties, have been seriously neglected due to a lack of research and support."

Chris Oliver, Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Director of the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, University of Birmingham, said: "People with learning difficulties may be unable to describe how they are feeling and others may think that changes in behaviour and emotions are caused by things other than anxiety and depression. It is therefore essential that we develop better tools to help us detect when autistic people are experiencing distress and mental health problems and ensure services include everyone and they receive timely and effective help."

Autistica is urging the autistic community to get directly involved in this and other planned UK research projects by signing up to its autism research network, Discover. Visit: autistica.org.uk/take-part Discover will link the autistic community with the Birmingham investigators, as well as other top UK research centres.

Jon Spiers, chief executive of Autistica, said: "We are delighted to be working with the Cerebra Centre on this pioneering new research. By helping more people sign up to take part in autism research projects, we can make sure research addresses the challenges that families and autistic people face, and provide them with the information, services and care that they need."

Autistica, together with its research partners, aims to recruit 5,000 autistic people, their families and carers to Discover by the end of 2017.

Credit: 
Autistica