Sr Sarah Cassidy Coventry UniversityAn autism expert is to create the UK’s first set of measures to guide health service providers in their support for adults with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) after being awarded a £250,000 grant.

Dr Sarah Cassidy (pictured) from Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, will undertake a 3-year project to carry out research to create a new valid set of measures which will enable health service providers, such as the NHS, to assess depression and the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in adults with ASC.

The grant for this project was awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr Cassidy is one of only 38 academics worldwide to receive funding from the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders programme, which identifies early-career academics who show world-leading potential in their field.

Dr Cassidy will also use her research into ASC to establish the UK’s first nationally representative ‘big data’ set containing rates of depression and suicidality in adults with the condition, which is intended to help other researchers to explore and analyse issues associated with ASC.

There are 700,000 individuals in the UK with an ASC and recent research by Dr Cassidy indicates an alarmingly high level of suicidal thoughts (66%), suicidal plans or attempts (32%) and depression (33%) in newly-diagnosed adults.

“The government has made it a priority for services to provide adults with ASC access to appropriate diagnosis, support and treatment for mental health problems,” said Dr Cassidy. “However, progress is hampered by the lack of research in this area. This means that service providers do not understand how problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviours can manifest in people with ASC, and therefore cannot effectively provide access to appropriate support and treatment.  This has led to many adults with ASC slipping through the net.

“We’re really keen to hear from people affected by ASC, whether that’s adults with the condition, their friends and family, charities or policymakers, because these are the people who can help drive the direction of the research and ensure it has a valuable long-term effect.”