How can substance use services be more accessible to Autistic clients?

I have written before about the barriers to accessing substance use services when you are both autistic, and an addict; today I’m going to approach from a different angle.

In this post, I will be talking about a few things that such services can do to increase accessibility, improving the quality of treatment that autistic and neurodivergent substance users recieve.

Let’s begin.

One of the first things I always point out, is how difficult it can be to keep track of appointment schedules when you are autistic. Services can improve this by using automated messages several times leading up to an appointment in order to remind the client of the details.

Services can also offer an array of reminders through different mediums so that the client can pick the reminder that will work best for them. It would also be helpful if key workers a medical staff could let clients know what will be discussed in the appointment so that they can prepare themselves for it.

The next one is a personal favourite of mine, and I’m yet to see it implemented.

The waiting room environment in treatment facilities can be overwhelming. Sensory friendly waiting rooms, designed by autistic people, for autistic people, could make a real difference here.

It’s impossible to recieve effective treatment if you are going into an appointment already overwhelmed. Thought should also be given to the appointment environment.

The last two are connected, and vital.

First, staff need to be trained on the difference between a panic attack, and a meltdown, and how to calmly and compassionately de-escalate both. Both of these situations have the potential to completely derail treatment if they are handled inappropriately.

Finally, staff need to recieve regular training on autism and neurodiversity, from Autistic and neurodivergent trainers (bonus points if they are also in recovery from addiction). Many staff in these places only know what medical schools and brief awareness courses teach. Often, they view things through the deficit-based medical model of neurodiversity.

Anyone of these changed could vastly improve accessibility, but all of them together would make a vast difference to the treatment environment. It’s important to note that it would not just benefit autistic clients.

When we improve the environment for autsitic and neurodivergent individuals, it generally improves it for everyone.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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