World Autism Acceptance Week 2023 – new developments
27 March, 2023
For World Autism Acceptance week I would like to update you about the latest work the Royal College of Psychiatrists is doing on autism.
The biggest new development is the National Autism Training Program for Psychiatrists. This is a joint initiative between the College and Health Education England, aimed at improving autism expertise and knowledge. The wonderful team at the College’s CALC put together two fantastic training packages under an extremely tight deadline. The first is a Foundation level course which is a one day webinar plus accompanying e-learning module, aimed at psychiatrists working in general adult and old age mental health settings. HEE have funded 1800 free places for psychiatrists (higher trainee to consultant level) working in the NHS in England.
The first tranche of 600 places on the Foundation course sold out within 36 hours, demonstrating the huge interest in the subject of autism amongst our profession. The webinar took place on the 16th March and included a great selection of speakers from a range of backgrounds, including lots of content from autistic people themselves. Our core message was that autistic people are more at risk of a range of mental health problems, autism is really common in mental health settings, and thus psychiatrists need to be alert to the possibility of autism, understand how to assess and treat co-occurring mental health conditions, and make reasonable adjustments to improve patient experience and outcomes. I was impressed by how engaged and receptive the audience of general psychiatrists was; gone are the days when autism was only seen as the business of CAMHS or learning disability psychiatrists.
The second training program is called the Enhanced Course. It is more in-depth, including a number of e-learning modules, face-to-face teaching, and mentoring. It is aimed at psychiatrists of any sub-speciality who are interested in becoming autism specialists. Again, there is a huge level of interest and the initial 50 places have sold out. We are planning to run both the Foundation Course and the Enhanced course again in September and at least once more in 2024. Please keep an eye on the College Events webpages for details of how to book on. We’re also looking for mentors for the Enhanced Course – if you already work in a specialist autism team, you can apply to be a mentor here.
Meanwhile, we are working on increasing the breadth of autism CPD content within the College’s e-learning Hub. A new podcast on the topic of mental health in adult autism is now available, featuring me, Professor Dheeraj Rai (Chief Investigator of the STRATA study), and Dr James Cusack (Chief Executive of the leading autism research charity Autistica). You can access the podcast here.
Finally for now, a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to speak at the General Adult Faculty Trainees conference on the subject of autistic psychiatrists. Survey data suggests that about 1 in 100 psychiatrists are autistic. It’s important that the College recognises this and includes autism and other forms of neurodiversity in its thinking about equality and inclusion. It’s fair to say that it’s still quite early days on this, but the College has set up a working group to look at how we can better support members with disabilities including autism. We are also taking steps to make sure that the International Congress this year is the most autism-friendly ever. For more information about this work, check out the disability page on the College website.