We held our May Open Lab meeting on Tuesday May 24, 1-2pm via Zoom.
Neurodivergence and Mental Health: How Do We Embrace Complexity?
Children and young people with neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g. autism, learning disabilities, attention differences, dyslexia, dyspraxia) have an increased risk of experiencing mental health problems. Yet we know relatively little about preventing and treating mental health conditions in this group, and they are frequently excluded from mental health research.
In this Open Lab we hosted Georgia Harper (Embracing Complexity coalition lead) and Suzi Sapiets (Universities of Warwick and Kent), who are members of the coordinating team for our Embracing Complexity in Neurodevelopmental Conditions and Mental Health Special Interest Research Group.
Georgia and Suzi gave a short presentation on the overlap between neurodivergence and mental health, drawing on findings from their cross-sector project, which you can read about in the report: Embracing Complexity in Research on Neurodevelopmental Conditions and Mental Health. You can watch the presentation in full below.
After a presentation we had some brilliant discussions around the key challenges to supporting neurodivergent children and young people, and ideas to improve research and practice. Below are some of those reflections.
What are the key challenges to supporting neurodivergent children and young people?
“Getting support is a bureaucratic nightmare”
- Lack of recognition compounded by masking and camouflaging
- The transition to university is particularly tough
- It’s hard to know what support you need. The onus should be on universities/employers/schools to present the menu of what can be offered
- There are range of people involved across education, research and charity sectors and arguments between teams over who should have responsibility
- A lack of resources for multi-disciplinary working
“People are pushed to fit into one box, and services forget they are a person”
- Diagnosis and labelling can lead to silos
- Services have rigid access paths and models of delivery that are unresponsive to individual needs
- Services are not set up to support people who are neurodivergent
- Individuals might not have mental health needs they were thought to have, and issues are more related to neurodivergence and the stress or mental health problems associated with that
- There are loopholes where people might not be supported for one need because of another, but then receive no support for any need because of that
- With inconsistency in assessment across services inequalities develop between people with similar needs but with different or no support
“Researchers don’t have the skills they need”
- …to consider how their research methods might exclude people
- … to use different approaches
- … to engage with wide range of people with different needs and abilities.
How can we improve practice and research on neurodivergence and mental health, to ensure all children and young people are supported?
- Develop support pre-diagnosis for those on waiting lists
- Services should look at need rather than diagnosis
- Raising awareness and skills of all professionals
- Importance of involving neurodivergent people in research projects
- More co-produced research and qualitative responses
- Less rigid funding and grant awarding bodies that allow opportunities to work in a truly collaborative way
- Skills development so research can be inclusive
- Consider inadvertent exclusion due to research design and methods
- Importance of researching transdiagnostic issues that are relevant to a number of different groups e.g. emotional regulation as a marker of mental health vs. a diagnostic label
- Make research questions cleaner but not too limiting to be representative
- Increase intersectionality in the “workforce” in this field
- Destigmatise and reshape understandings of neurodiversity e.g. “autistic people don’t have empathy” is based on neurotypical measurements