Making alcohol treatment more autism-friendly

English | Cymraeg

Prof Mark Brosnan | August 2019 | 7 minutes

Prof Mark Brosnan discusses some of the reasons people with autism might drink, and what support they may need.

Prof Mark Brosnan from the University of Bath’s Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR) will be speaking at our conference on 18 September 2019, talking about how service providers can make alcohol support more autism-friendly.

Autism is defined in terms of difficulties with social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours, interests and activities, or sensory issues. One of the effects of drinking alcohol is that it often makes us feel more sociable. So, how does drinking alcohol impact upon someone who has a condition defined by social difficulties?

Research by the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR) at the University of Bath and Alcohol Change UK looked to explore the potential relationship between autism and alcohol, with two online studies: one for the autistic community, and one for alcohol service providers.

The survey for the autistic community was developed for those who drink alcohol and those who don’t, to try and capture the broadest range of alcohol-related experiences. We asked questions about people’s expectations of drinking alcohol and their motivations. The second survey explored how autism-friendly alcohol service providers perceived their service to be.

The results of the surveys were then discussed with members of the autism community at the Promoting Autistic Wellbeing event held at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, in April this year. This culminated in a list of ‘top tips’ for making services autism-friendly. Here are just some of them:

  • First of all, of course, understand autism including potential strengths, and the impact of associated conditions such as anxiety.
  • Be prepared. Make sure the autistic client knows what to expect and who they’ll be meeting. Ask them what they need.
  • Be structured and consistent. Give the client a regular slot, with the same person.
  • Be explicit. Always explain why something is happening, and have clear aims.
  • Be clear. Use plain language. Avoid metaphors, jargon and acronyms.
  • Understand emotions and discuss them in terms of lived experience, not simply labels.
  • Involve a family member, partner or advocate in sessions. This can help, but only if agreed with the autistic person. The autistic person should remain in control.

The findings from both surveys, and their implications for a range of services, will be discussed at the Alcohol Change UK conference, ‘Alcohol and everything else: What to do when drinking isn’t the only issue’ at Wrexham Glyndŵr University on Wednesday 18 September 2019.

Find out more and book your tickets