Yet, with around 50–70% of Autistic people experiencing mental health intersections, the need to have neuro-affirming support has never been greater.
There are many barriers that leave us with unmet mental health needs, including:
This all underscores the urgent need for targeted, systemic change and for mental health services and resources designed for and with Autistic people.
We don’t want to provide an exhaustive list because we know – if you’re seeking mental health help – you’re exhausted enough. So we reviewed the latest research and formulated 6 questions to ask to determine whether a mental health provider is likely to provide a neuro-affirming, individualised service, or not.
1. What professional development or self-directed study have you done to update your knowledge of Autism and frequently co-occurring conditions?
Our knowledge of Autism has come a long way in the last 20 years. If your mental health provider achieved their qualifications a while ago and haven’t kept abreast of the latest developments, they may still believe many harmful misconceptions and have outdated notions of what approaches are beneficial.
And who provided your training or produced your self-directed study materials?
Were they created by or with Autistic people and do they place an emphasis on care that promotes
Were they created by or with Autistic people and do they place an emphasis on care that promotes Autistic wellbeing? Or, rather, do they encourage the masking of our Autistic traits at the expense of our wellbeing?
2. Is your practice an Autism-friendly environment?
Do they offer telehealth consultations as well as in-person consultations? Do they have sensory tools on hand that you can use? Are the videos they use captioned? Is there plenty of parking? Can you make appointments online? Make a list of what you need for an environment to accommodate your unique Autistic profile and ask whether a prospective practice can meet these needs.
3. How would you describe Autism?
How Autism is referred to – especially by healthcare providers – impacts how society views Autistic people and, crucially, how you view yourself. If they use deficit-based and pathologising language, leave immediately. You are not inherently broken or diseased, you simply have a different neurotype. You may like to download and share this letter to show prospective mental health providers what respectful, neuro-affirming language looks like.
4. How do you individualise your approach to your clients’ mental healthcare?
You cannot meet a client’s needs if you do not see them as having unique needs. As the old adage goes, “If you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person.”
5. Will you get to know and leverage my strengths and passions in treatment?
We know that identifying and mobilising an Autistic person’s strengths can boost self esteem, promote Autistic flourishing and is a key component of a neuro-affirming approach to mental healthcare. If you’re experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, engaging in your interests can be an effective coping strategy and should be encouraged by your mental healthcare provider.
6. Will you provide practical and achievable steps to promote my progress?
Providers can help you meet your mental healthcare goals by providing practical and realistic recommendations on how to navigate life situations that impact your mental health. Some providers focus heavily on Autism itself or adverse childhood experiences that may not be helpful in managing your day-to-day activities. For example, if you’re socially anxious, it may be more helpful to talk through recent situations and identify practical coping mechanisms rather than to analyse the early childhood experiences that may have triggered your social anxiety. A good provider will regularly check-in with you about how you’re finding therapy, take on board your feedback and modify their approach as necessary.
Ultimately, the provider should be willing to collaborate with you to design a client-centred approach and style that works with your neurology, not against it.
Because Autistic individuals – just like everyone else – have the right to access mental health services that validate their identity, and feel safe in doing so.
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.