Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of premature death for autistic people. Autistic people without a learning disability are nine times more likely to die by suicide than non-autistic people and 66% of autistic adults have considered suicide. This project aims to develop and test safety plans for autistic people experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

What is the project about?

The project will research whether it is possible to adapt safety plans for autistic people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

What is a safety plan?
Safety plans are a type of intervention commonly used in suicide and self-harm prevention. They are personalised, written plans focusing on steps to take if a person starts to think about suicide or self-harm. They contain gradually escalating steps that a person can follow until they are safe.

What are researchers doing?

In the first stage of the project, the researchers worked with autistic people, family members and professionals to refine adapted safety plans and research whether they are fit for purpose.

In the second stage of the project, researchers will work with local authorities and third sector service providers to train staff to use safety plans. They will also work with autistic people who have direct experience of self-harm and with support staff to create personalised safety plans and feedback on their experiences.

In the third stage, the team will learn about the long-term experiences of 70 autistic people who use the tailored safety plan during treatment. They will compare their experiences with autistic people who receive standard care.

The research team has developed a webpage for the project.

How will the project help?

The project aims to establish whether it is possible to adapt safety plans appropriately for the autistic community. If this study finds that it is feasible, it will inform whether a bigger study is needed to show how effective the safety plans are.

We know that autistic people are 9 times more likely to die by suicide than non-autistic people. If appropriate safety plans can be developed, it will offer another tool for professionals to use in their support of autistic people who are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

How are Autistica supporting the project?

Autistica are working with the project team to develop an advisory panel that is representative of the community. We will be recruiting community members through our Autistica Network. They will provide guidance and feedback at all stages of the study including recruitment strategies, documentation, methods, interpretation and dissemination of findings. We will offer training on involvement and ensure that community members are supported during their participation.

We will contribute toward the cost of staff from third sector partner organisations to attend workshops about adapting safety plans. We are also supporting the development and delivery of the workshops. We will help to bring together the autism community and professionals to attend them.

We will also help to share the results of the study with the Autistica Network, and offer the experience of our Policy and Communications teams to support the researchers to share the results and create real impact.

Who is funding the project?

The project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research under the PHR Commissioned funding stream.

Funding total: £645,510

Start Date: September 2020

End Date: February 2023