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Warwick researchers in major new autism mental health study

Experts from the University of Warwick are working with the UK’s leading autism research charity, Autistica, on a ground-breaking new project on the mental health of children with autism.

Autistica is working with Warwick’s Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) to improve the mental health of people with autism by 2020.

Charlotte Rowe, from CEDAR, will look at the rates and nature of mental health difficulties in children with autism and intellectual disability, and analyse how these change over the childhood years.

In a joint-funded three-year PhD fellowship with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) she will use existing data from longitudinal studies to understand how experiences in the early years relate to children’s behaviour problems and mental health later. Charlotte will also examine how effective some interventions are for reducing anxiety in these children.

Data from Autistica shows 70% of individuals with autism meet the diagnostic criteria for one mental health condition and 40% meet criteria for two mental health conditions, but these issues can often be missed. Just one third are diagnosed, in part because clinicians can be more focused on an individual’s autism than their mental health difficulties.

There is growing evidence to suggest that challenges with anxiety and depression can be as debilitating as the core social and communication difficulties of autism, yet there are no autism-specific interventions available.

Through this vital new programme, Autistica will be funding research to improve understanding of the nature and extent of mental health issues in autism, and develop a range of treatments that will benefit the autism community within four years.

Senior research fellow Vasiliki Totsika said: “CEDAR is very excited to start this new project with Autistica. This work will add significantly to our understanding of mental health in an often overlooked group of children: those who have both autism and intellectual disability.

“These children and their families face significant challenges. Mental health problems cause additional complications both to children themselves and their families. Once established, mental health problems tend to persist into adulthood.

“With this project, our aim is to map types of mental health problems that are more prevalent in childhood and adolescence, understand their trajectory through the early years and identify early risk factors. Findings from this work will inform much needed early intervention approaches for this group of children.

“We are very happy to be welcoming Charlotte Rowe who will start on this project in October. Charlotte is an excellent researcher and we have no doubt that her research will significantly inform Autistica’s work.”

Autistica’s chief executive Jon Spiers said: “This crucial research initiative stems directly from our consultation with the autism community. A staggering three quarters of adults with autism told us that they wanted more evidence-based interventions to help with poor mental health. A recent survey we undertook with parents of children on the autism spectrum showed us that support with stress and anxiety was their number one priority. We are proud to be launching this programme, casting light on the mental health difficulties that cause distress to so many with autism.”

Three overarching aims define Autistica’s projects:

  • to improve identification and research of the mental health conditions most commonly associated with autism.
  • to develop autism-specific treatments for those in need.
  • to produce practical outcomes that will benefit the autism community in just four years.

To promote the work, and raise money for the projects, Autistica have produced a brochure and a 5 minute film which highlights the importance of the projects through individuals affected and the researchers involved.

Visit the project webpage.

Follow the conversation so far on Twitter: #castinglight

Notes to Editors:

Contacts:

Lee Page, Communications Manager, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255, Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email: l.page@warwick.ac.uk.

Rebecca Sterry, Communications Manager, Autistica. Tel: 056 011 88981, Mob 07716 426896. Email: Rebecca.sterry@autistica.org.uk.

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Contact:

Lee Page

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221

Email: l.page@warwick.ac.uk

Rebecca Sterry

Communications Manager, Autistica.

Tel: 056 011 88981

Mob: 07716 426896.

Email: rebecca.sterry@autistica.org.uk