Top 5 autism tips for professionals:transition from CAMHS to adult mental health services

In this article Patrick Sims, former mental health practitioner and adult autism advocacy lead for the the NAS provides his top 5 tips for transition from CAMHS to Adult Mental Health Services. This article aims to provide an easy read overview of practical tips for professionals and is aimed at:

  • Professionals in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) who are about to support one of their patients with mental health difficulties and autism to transfer to adult mental health services.

  • Professionals in adult mental health services who are about to start working with a young person with mental health problems and autism.

For CAMHS workers:

  1. Find out as much as you can about the new routine, so you can prepare the young person and work with them to prepare them for the change.
  2. Give the young person a photograph of their new worker and where they will meet. Perhaps you could go with the young person the first time.
  3. Support the young person to write a letter to their new worker explaining their needs, their strengths, their challenges and ambitions, if the young person is happy to do this. This could also be a really helpful tool for demonstrating the progress the person has made since they started to meet you.
  4. Work with the young person to ensure that they know where they can get support both for mental health issues and for everyday life challenges, especially if the young person is going to be discharged rather than transferred. Are there any local projects that you could refer them to? Do they have a personal budget they could use in order to buy support?
  5. Work with others involved with the young person, eg parents, school, social worker, Connexions worker (or equivalent in your area) and other professionals, to ensure that they have a plan and routine after they leave school.

For Adult Mental Health workers:

  1. Share any existing experience or knowledge of autism you have with your colleagues but also get to know the person that you are working with. Try not to make any assumptions or generalisations as all people with autism are different.
  2. Be aware of sensory issues ( A person with autism may experience acute hearing, sensory overload, or may find touch painful. This might mean that waiting in a busy waiting room will be an anxiety-provoking experience. Consider an alternative meeting place, maybe of the person’s own choosing.
  3. Language:
    • Keep your sentences short and simple. Give one instruction or idea at a time. You may be taken literally, e.g. “Please wait outside” and “Do you hear voices?” could be acted upon and interpreted in a very literal way.
    • Also allow time for the person with autism to process information. If you disrupt their thought pattern, the processing time may need to start again. As a suggestion leave about six seconds processing time.
    • Be careful what you promise, e.g. a 9.30 meeting may be taken by a person with autism to mean just that and not a few minutes either side. Any changes to this may cause great distress, mean your planned meeting is wasted and trust possibly damaged.
    • Give very clear instructions, particularly about medication. With the person’s agreement, consider a dosette box with days and times clearly labelled, and even have this made up by the local pharmacist if appropriate.
  1. Write down the main actions and outcomes of the meeting down and write down the next appointment time. If possible send a reminder.
  2. Arrange a three-way meeting with the CAMHS worker. Many professionals prefer to meet patients without being swayed by others’ views. However, when working with a person with autism you may find it useful to find out more about the person prior to the first meeting in order to reduce the chances of causing distress or anxiety.

N.B. some of these tips could also benefit young people who don’t have an accompanying autism spectrum disorder.

You can also download the top tips

Author: Patrick Sims

Date added: 16th April 2014