Having a baby is a major event in any woman's life. If you are autistic, you may need different support to a neurotypical mother. This study aims to understand autistic mothers' experiences of maternity services and find ways that they could be improved.
Birth experiences can affect both the mother and her child in terms of their physical and mental health. These experiences, whether good or bad, will shape the parenting relationship, affect the mother’s confidence and general wellbeing, and could impact on other family members and the wider community. It's important that we give all women the best support possible - right now services may be failing some autistic women.
What is the need for the project?
Autistic women may have difficulty with sensory issues, and differences in communication preferences and may need more care and support at this time than the general population of women. If they don't get the right care, it is easy for women to experience isolation, anxiety and depression. A recent small study suggests that maternity services do not have the skills to support autistic women. It is likely that some of the things that will benefit autistic women will benefit all women.
The research process
The research will involve mothers from across England. The researcher will use different ways of collecting information:
- interviews with autistic women
- Freedom of Information requests will be made to get statistics and reports from NHS maternity services providers
- electronic questionnaires will be completed by midwives
- interviews with midwives
The researcher will keep a journal to record thoughts, discussions held with other researchers, other autistic individuals, and professionals working in the field.
All this information will be analysed to identify any trends, including by region, between NHS and private experiences, and over time.
How will this improve lives?
This project will produce a comprehensive report of experiences. It will suggest changes to services that will improve the experience of expectant and new mothers. We will work with the researcher to make sure the NHS and Government recognise this information and make steps to improve the support given to autistic women in maternity services. If we have healthier, happier mothers, we can build a better society.
This is a Charles Sharland Autistic Grant Scheme Award, supported by businessman and autism philanthropist Charles Sharland.