Aims: To establish the many different ways in which autistic people of any age may be vulnerable because of their disabilities.
Background: Autistic people have social and communication difficulties which could leave them at greater risk of being vulnerable – for example, being exploited socially by others or misunderstanding others’ communications to their own disadvantage. Autistic people also have a different cognitive style (e.g., ‘obsessional’ thinking and difficulties in adjusting to unexpected change) which could leave them vulnerable in other ways (e.g., pursuing a topic to the bitter end, and not seeing the bigger picture that might include how this might be viewed by others; or reacting differently in an environment that entails sensory overload, for them, or that makes them anxious – perhaps having a ‘meltdown’). This project is exploratory, to identify areas of vulnerability and the triggers of these, in both autistic children and adults.
Methods: We have developed the Vulnerability Experiences Quotient (VEQ) as both a self-report measure for adults over 16 years old, or as a parent-report measure for children under 16 years old.
Results: The adult study is complete: hundreds of autistic adults took part and results were presented at the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) 2018 and will appear as a publication on the ARC website. Autistic adults showed higher rates of vulnerability in all 10 areas of everyday life (from schooling, the work place, in close relationships, in health, in the criminal justice system, among other areas), and had higher rates of mental health difficulties. Furthermore, scores on the VEQ mediated poor mental health. The child study is ongoing.
Importance: Evidence of this kind is essential for policy makers to know how society needs to change to make the world safer for autistic people and to both reduce the risk of poor mental health for autistic people, and improve their well-being.
Relevance: This research has relevance for politicians, teachers, health professionals, those working in social care, for parents, for the autism community, and for society at large, so that we remove barriers to inclusion.
Funding: The Autism Research Trust, NIHR-CLAHRC East of England, Queen Anne’s Gate Foundation.