The report “Know your normal: young people with autism’s experience of mental health”, launched by Ambitious about Autism and the Centre for Research in Autism Education (CRAE) in June 2017 and now freely available online, explores the mental health experiences of young autistic people (16-25 years) across England makes recommendations on how best to meet their needs.
This research, led by Georgia Harper, Fern Adams and Jack Welch (a group of young autistic Youth Patrons from Ambitious about Autism), and researchers from the CRAE Laura Crane and Liz Pellicano, asked 130 young autistic people about their mental health needs, and their experiences of seeking mental health support.
Whilst autism is not a mental health condition, around 70-80% of children and adults on the autism spectrum have experienced mental health problems. This is not an issue that has gone unnoticed, with autistic people, their families, and the people who work with them highlighting mental health as a priority area for research. Despite efforts to address this gap in knowledge, little work has explored the mental health needs of young autistic people.
The report goes on to outline three key points young autistic people believe will make the biggest difference to their experience of mental health:
- They must have support identifying and communicating how they feel.
- We must reduce stigma and increase knowledge around mental health and autism.
- They must be able to find and access suitable support when they need it.
The results highlighted the fact that 80% of the young people questioned had experienced mental health problems. Not only that, these young people told us how they generally felt unhappy, depressed, worthless, under strain, unable to overcome their difficulties and lacking in confidence. Many young people felt that these problems stemmed from the pressure to act ‘normal’ in a neurotypical world.
This research forms part of Ambitious about Autism’s campaign “Know Your Normal”, undertaken by young autistic people to promote an understanding of what wellbeing looks like for autistic children and young people. The project focuses in particular on how a ‘normal day’ for an autistic individual might be very different from that of a neurotypical person, by listening to young people.