AMRC Open Research

Offering social, psychological and physical support through social prescribing for autistic people

Dr Rebecca Charlton and Dr Catherine Crompton discuss their Open Letter about social prescribing, where they examine the factors that should be considered when offering it to autistic adults and what can be done to help optimise the outcomes.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

RC: I’m a Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London. My research explores different changes that happen in ageing, with a focus on changes in social and cognitive abilities and how they are explained by changes in health that might affect the brain. I’m also interested in how ageing impacts autistic people. We know little about ageing and autism, and whether autistic people are at greater or lesser risk for age-related changes.  

CC: I’m a Post-doctoral Researcher at the Patrick Wild Centre at the University of Edinburgh. My research focuses on autistic interaction, and the diverse ways in which people communicate. I’m particularly interested in how this interacts with relationships and mental health.

We are both part of the Physical Health and Ageing Study Group organised by UK charity, Autistica. The Study Group brings together autistic people, their family members, researchers and clinicians to develop research and initiatives to promote the well-being of autistic people. We are exploring the impact of health problems and comorbidities among autistic adults.  

How would you summarise your article?

Recently the National Health Service (NHS) England has promoted social prescribing as a non-medical patient support. Social prescribing offers practical, social, psychological and physical support. Although there are a limited number of peer-reviewed evaluations of social prescribing, it is thought to be particularly beneficial to individuals with multiple comorbidities or complex health needs.

Autistic people are likely to be referred to social prescribing services due to common co-occurring physical and mental health issues. However, we do not yet know whether or in what format it will benefit autistic people. In this letter, we discuss: 1) the evidence for the benefits of social prescribing in general, 2) the factors that may limit social prescribing success for autistic people and 3) how situations can be optimised to promote the best outcomes for autistic adults.  

Why did you decide to publish in AMRC Open Research?

Research published in AMRC Open Research can be accessed by anyone, online, for free. This allows a wide readership and the potential for impact across multiple sectors. In our case, this means that researchers, clinicians, third sector service providers, autistic people, and their family members can read about how social prescribing is currently designed and the accommodations that can be made to increase accessibility and benefit for autistic people.

By opening our research to all, we hope to increase awareness and visibility of these issues for GPs and social prescribing providers, and enable autistic people to feel empowered to discuss these accommodations.

How do you think AMRC Open Research might benefit other charity funded research?

AMRC Open Research is an excellent repository for charity funded research. It allows research results to be widely available through open access. This includes negative and null results which may be difficult to publish but which are vital for planning and optimising future clinical research. Open access can often be costly and therefore off-limits for many charities. The reduced article processing fee for charities is likely to allow research to reach a wider audience.

AMRC Open Research provides quick publication of research with transparent peer review, which allows research findings to be disseminated quickly and widely, without compromising academic rigour. The multi-disciplinary nature of AMRC Open Research means that common themes across clinical research can be considered and discussed. This allows sharing of information and best practise relevant to many research fields, among research charities.

What’s next for your research?

The Physical Health and Ageing Study Group is exploring how Autistica can work with other charities to have the biggest impact on health and well-being. We are continuing to examine how health problems and difficulties accessing healthcare may be harmful for autistic people, and are particularly interested in what procedures can be developed to better support autistic adults.