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Too Much Information
Some of the initial discussion about possible changes to the Mental Health Act has been about whether autism should be taken out of the Mental Health Act and other frameworks of care put in its place. The review has raised questions about availability of treatments in hospital, and about knowledge of the condition amongst key decision makers.
As the law stands
The Code of Practice that accompanies the current Mental Health Act includes autism as one of the conditions that are defined as a mental disorder. The Code also contains a useful introduction to autistic spectrum conditions in Chapter 20. Even though autism is included in the Code’s definition of a mental disorder, the Code does say that someone who has autism is highly unlikely to be detained under the Mental Health Act unless they have some other form of mental disorder. As the Code says, the nature of autism means in-patient treatment in a busy hospital ward is not going to be a helpful environment for recovery. The Code describes autism as a developmental disorder that affects the way someone relates to others. It is not an illness.
So what are the issues to consider in working with someone with autism? Anyone working with someone who may be subject to the Mental Health Act should first be thinking about the Act’s guiding principles.
- Promoting independence and recovery
- Involving people in decisions about their own care
- Treating people with respect
- Tailoring care and treatment so it is appropriate for that person
- Working together with others to provide quality care
The National Autistic Society are repeating their Autism Hour campaign week beginning on the 6th October which you can read here. The idea of the campaign is to encourage supermarkets to make shopping more autism aware. The National Autistic Society website is a useful source of awareness raising materials that can provide useful tips for how all of us, not just supermarkets, can be alert to the day to day experiences of people with autism, including:
- Difficulties in coping with unexpected change
- Responding to people around can be very anxiety provoking
- The need for processing time to manage information
- Being bombarded with sensory experiences (too much light, noise etc.)
- Experiencing a meltdown when all around becomes too much
When you think about these experiences it helps understand why in-patient treatment is not the preferred option for people with autism. The review of the Act currently underway will be looking to see how awareness of the needs of people with autism can be improved.
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