A new Queensland project aimed to improve mental health services for people on the autism spectrum has been launched by Autism Queensland ahead of World Autism Awareness Day 2021 on 2 April, World Autism Month in April, and Autism Queensland's annual Go Blue for Autism campaign.
An online survey is the first stage of the Creating Autism Friendly Community Mental Health Services Project, which is developing and delivering autism-specific training for mainstream mental health professionals.
The Queensland autism peak body is looking for adolescents and adults across Queensland who are on the autism spectrum, and who also have a mental health condition, to participate in this project to help improve access to quality community mental health services that would meet the unique needs of people on the autism spectrum.
Autism Queensland also wants to hear from family members and carers of people on the spectrum about autism and mental health.
Autism and Mental Health Project Leader at Autism Queensland, Davina Sanders, says adults on the spectrum are more likely to experience clinical levels of depression and anxiety, which is why this project is so important.
"Research has found 53 percent of youths on the spectrum without a co-occurring intellectual disability have a current anxiety diagnosis, with clinical anxiety and depression commonly occurring at the same time," explains Ms Sanders.
"64 percent of adults on the spectrum also experience poor sleep which is linked to the presence of a mental health condition.
"It can be harder for people on the spectrum to get the right mental health care, which is why Autism Queensland is developing training packages for mental health professionals to help them deliver effective mental health support to people on the spectrum."
This training will incorporate the co-occurring mental health conditions of people on the autism spectrum, differential diagnosis of autism and mental health conditions, and adaptations to therapeutic strategies to support the specific needs of clients.
Ms Sanders says it is really vital that the training program is created and informed by the community of people these services will be delivered to, which is why Autism Queensland is asking to hear from people with lived experiences of autism and mental health.
The first stage of the project includes a survey and interviews with people on the spectrum, as well as their families, so they can understand their experiences of mental health services.
The data gathered through the interviews will assist in developing a series of training packages for mental health professionals.
It will provide mental health practitioners with confidence that they can deliver quality services to people on the spectrum, as well as identify the gaps in practitioners' knowledge of autism and the barriers to effective service delivery to people on the spectrum.
There will also be an advisory group of adults on the spectrum and a consultant with lived experience of autism and mental health providing guidance on the development of the training materials.
Ms Sanders says, "With the help of the autism community, we hope to create a better service experience for people on the autism spectrum who also have a mental health condition."
The survey is anonymous, only for people in Queensland, and takes 20 minutes to complete.
Along with this survey, Autism Queensland is conducting a feedback survey for General Practitioners (GPs) and mental health practitioners around their confidence and experiences in supporting people on the spectrum, who may have mental health conditions.
This project is funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency as part of the NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) Mainstream Capacity Building Program.
For more information about the survey or to undertake the survey, visit the Autism Queensland website.