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Autistic communication and involvement in mental health

A qualitative examination of autistic communication and involvement in mental health hospital settings: identifying and addressing barriers for client voice

What we are doing:

The research consists of video-recorded ward rounds for twelve autistic adults in mental health hospitals, combined with interviews with six clients and thirty staff, focusing on experiences and perceptions of autistic communication and involvement. The recordings demonstrate communication and involvement in practice, and the interviews explore what people imagine happens in everyday care. The research explores this in two hospital settings: one generic mental health service for adults, and the other a specialist service for adults with learning disabilities. Broadly, the study aims to identify the barriers to effective communication and involvement, to highlight good practice and suggest recommendations.

Why we are doing it:

Autistic individuals are more likely to have co-occurring mental health conditions, to die by suicide and to be admitted into hospital than the general population. Diagnostically, they have social communication and social interaction difficulties that make involvement in care and conversations with staff more challenging. Person-centered care, shared decision-making and patient involvement all rely on communication skills. This research aims to support effective involvement and communication of autistic people in their mental health care to ensure autistic individuals have a voice and receive the right care, in the right place and at the right time.          

What the benefits will be:

The beneficiaries are two groups: staff working in mental health and autistic persons in mental health care. The benefits of the research are an increased understanding of the communication needs of autistic adults and how these impact on involvement in care. The research also examines differences between perceptions about what happens in ward rounds and hospital life, and what happens in practice. In this way, the study potentially impacts on improving care for this group of persons by identifying ways to centralise their voices and recognize their human rights. The findings may also be transferable to staff in general hospitals.

Who we are working with:

The researcher is working closely with her supervision team based at the University of Leicester and staff and managers at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. 


Alison Drewett, PhD Researcher, University of Leicester.


Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash