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 56,000 people in the West Midlands are autistic1,2* – and nearly eight in ten (79 per cent) will experience a mental health problem.3
The research – to be announced at an autism science talk in Birmingham today - 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 over 40 times more likely to die from a neurological disorder than the general population - and twice as likely to commit suicide.4
One of the study’s lead investigators, Dr Jane Waite, lecturer in psychology, School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, said of the study: “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, 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 local autistic community to get directly involved in this and other planned UK research projects by signing up to its autism research network, Discover, which will link the local autistic community with the Birmingham investigators, as well as to other top UK research centres.
Autistica, together with its research partners, aims to recruit 5,000 autistic people, their families and carers to Discover by the end of 2017. To find out more and get involved visit: autistica.org.uk/take-part
Notes to the editor
About Aston University. Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established research-led university known for its world-class teaching quality, and strong links to business and the professions. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston has been a leading university for graduate employment success for over 25 years and our students do extremely well in securing top jobs and careers. Our strong relationships with industry partners mean we understand the needs of employers, which is why we are also ranked in the top 20 for graduate employability.
About the Cerebra mental health study. A key objective of the study is to improve the identification of mental health problems in autistic people with learning difficulties, who currently represent over a third (38%) of the UK autistic population. This study focuses on designing a practical and effective assessment tool for use in the clinic to identify anxiety and depression in autistic people with learning difficulties. This important research is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, Aston University, Coventry University, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust and the leading UK autism research charity, Autistica.
About Cerebra. Cerebra is the charity that works with families which include children with brain conditions. They listen to them, they learn from them, they work with them. They carry out research, they design and innovate, they make and share. What they discover together makes everyone’s life better. For more information visit the website
About the Birmingham Science Talk. The announcement of the new Cerebra research will be made today at the first of a series of autism events taking place in Birmingham during October and November hosted by Autistica in collaboration with Deutsche Bank. The events are free and anyone can attend. For further details on the talks including location and timings, click here
About Autistica. Autistica is the UK’s leading autism research charity. Autistica’s research is guided by families and autistic individuals, with the aim of building longer, happier, healthier lives for all those living with autism. They support research into autism and related conditions to improve autistic people’s lives and develop new therapies and interventions. Since 2004, Autistica has raised over £12 million for autism research, funding over 40 world-class scientists in universities across the UK. For more information visit the website Twitter @AutisticaUK
* Figure extrapolated from UK population data for West Midlands
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