Collaborative practices to improve mental health for autistic children and their families
By Maria Thomas, on 16 December 2019
On the 21st and 22nd October 2019, Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou and other experts in the field of autism delivered a two day course on ‘Improving Access to Psychological Services (IAPT) for Autistic Children and Young People’ at the Anna Freud Centre. This short IAPT course was funded by Health Education England to help practitioners to understand the barriers experienced by autistic CYP in accessing IAPT services and share examples of good practice and to develop innovative approaches of working with, rather than on or for, autistic CYP.
A key aim of the training is to support practitioners in their role to improve the effectiveness of psychological services for autistic children and young people with, and without, a learning disability by embedding the necessary changes required into service culture. The key outcomes of the two days were to challenge the stereotypes practitioners may hold about autism, promote a better understanding of the communication differences between autistic and non-autistic people and what works, as well as understand autistic burnout, meltdown/shutdown and masking in relation to mental health. The course is beneficial to mental health professionals, social workers and nurses working in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), voluntary support/peer groups/third sectors, and charity sectors.
The plan for the two days was co-produced by Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou who leads the IAPT Autism/ Learning Disabilities stream with Ann Memmott, Autistic Autism Trainer, Director at AT-AUTISM and three young people with a diagnosis of autism/learning disability/ADHD who have been service users at CAMHS, and presented talks and group exercises run by national experts including clinical tutors, academics and autistic people and their family members to collaborate on key issues such as trauma, anxiety and depression, and autism.
Georgia Pavlopoulou (Academic co-Lead):
For me it all started with a question that has motivated my work for the past 17 years: how do we move from ‘fixing’ autistic people to shared power and a more democratic approach to mental health support? Autistic people, their parents, carers and clinicians agree that children and young autistic people often do not receive the psychological help they deserve because those trained in delivering evidence based therapies feel inadequately trained in adaptations for those with a diagnosis of Autism and/or Learning Disability diagnoses and those with significant experience of working with these groups are insufficiently trained in evidence-based methods of therapy.
The above has been a dominant theme in my professional and research career and I am delighted that I now have the chance to work with Dr Peter Fuggle, Dr Russell Russ, our Young Champions and other wonderful academic and clinical colleagues across UCL and Anna Freud Centre in order to explore further issues of co-production and co-delivery in mental health when working with neurodivergent populations. The Psychological Therapies for Children and Young People with a diagnosis of Autism and/or Learning Disability curriculum has been developed as part of the Child and Young People Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme (CYP IAPT). IAPT aims to improve people’s access to psychological therapies and evidence based practice through the NHS and associated agencies.
During the two days of the short course we co-run activities with delegates, our IAPT clinical tutors and autistic experts and shared celebrations and struggles. Through these exercises we hope that practitioners can identify more ways in which their service might improve autistic participation from an IAPT value viewpoint.
Julia Avnon (Clinical Tutor at Anna Freud Centre):
Over the two days we invited autistic people and their families to help us understand that there is still a lot of room for improvement with the intention of stimulating discussion around how we might improve the way we work in the therapy room with neurodivergent population. It’s so important that autistic people’s mental health experiences are told to our trainees if we aim to improve local mental health services so they are aware of stressors, autistic burnout, alexithymia, what makes autistic people happy and how to work with, rather than on or for autistic people to adapt therapy.
Working together, we maximise the chances to find ways to improve the mental health of autistic people working with autistic people, focusing on aspects that matters to them in their preferred ways. That is a key message of this two day course.
Ann Memmott, PGC (Autistic Autism Trainer Co Lead of the Short Course, AT-AUTISM Director):
With a substantial number of autistic children and young people experiencing mental health conditions, the need for up-to-date, authentic training for professionals has never been greater. This short course, with funding from Health Education England, was very well received. Those present were enabled to collaborate, explore key new materials, and listen to first-hand accounts of what helps and hinders in therapeutic practice around mental health and autism. Unique in its field, this format has given an excellent grounding in the differences and approaches that need to be taken into account for successful outcomes. With a sizeable waiting list for future courses, it is clear that there is a strong need for further provision of the training. A delight to have collaborated on this, and looking forward to further work with all involved.
Quotes from participants:
“There is a need to encourage understanding of non-autistic people and culture rather than teaching how to poorly mimic what one is not – is key strategy to reduce stress in autistic people.” Damian Milton, autistic academic, guest speaker at the event.
“I have witnessed some great interaction with delegates moving around into new groups in bringing new ideas from autistic adult, autistic parent, parent, professional, clinicians and researchers perspective. I was here to today to discuss how we can do things better from a BAME perspective.” Vanessa Bobb, CEO A2Voice, mother of child with autism.
“So grateful for two enriching days. Made me think where is the Autistic person’s voice in the Autism narrative? Mutuality & collaboration not modification. Celebrating difference not focusing on deficit. Now time for reflection and sharing.” R.E, Art therapist.
For more info on the PG IAPT course in Mental Health for Autistic CYP or upcoming short courses, please contact Module Leader: Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou at email@example.com