It’s OCD Awareness Week and CAMHS are still failing Autistic young people

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most misunderstood mental health diagnoses that exists. Misrepresentation in the media and everyday vernacular means that OCD has come to be understood as something that requires a meticulous attention to detail and love of order. The truth is far more upsetting for those who are diagnosed with this condition, and Autistic children and young people represent a significant portion of this population. despite this Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are failing to support Autistic children and young people with what can be a very debilitating experience.

How common is OCD amongst Autistic people?

“Autism is not a mental health problem, but as many as 7 out of 10 people with autism also have a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).”

Hampshire CAMHS

Accordine to Meier et al (2015) people diagnosed Autistic were twice as likely to be additionally diagnosed with OCD, and those diagnosed OCD were four times as likely to later be diagnosed Autistic. Martin et al (2020) found that, of young people ages 4-17 years, 25% of those diagnosed OCD were also Autistic, with a total of 5% of Autistic young people being diagnosed with OCD. In contrast to this is the general population, of whom around 1.5% are Autistic (Baron-Cohen et al, 2018) and 3.5% are OCD (Fineberg et al, 2013). It is clear that OCD and autism have an complex relationship that warrants attention.

If OCD is so common for Autistic young people, how many are being treated by CAMHS?

According to Devon NHS trust 1 in 10 CAMHS patients are Autistic. I have spoken before about how alarming this statistic is (see here). To really capture the fallout of these failures La Buissoniere Ariza et al (2021) found that 13% of parents reported suicidal ideation in their child when autism and OCD co-occur. Please don’t forget that Autistic children in general are twenty eight times more likely to think about or attempt suicide (Royal College of Psychiatrists). OCD is not just a significant issue for Autistic young people, it is threatening their lives. Still, CAMHS are refusing to support these Autistic children.

What are the barriers to CAMHS supporting Autistic young people with OCD?

In my opinion, the biggest issue is professional competence. Myself and Tanya Adkin have written previously about her concept of neurodivergence competency. Despite Autistic children and young people representing a huge portion of the populations that need access to CAMHS, professionals do not have the skills to support them safely and effectively. This presents huge barriers to access to CAMHS because they are either turned away or given treatment that can have life threatening consequences.

If we wish to reduce the rates of suffering amognst Autistic and OCD young people, we need to fight for a CAMHS that not only lets us through the door, but also upskills it’s professionals, and creates an environment within which Autistic and neurodivergent professionals can work. There is more to be said about the hostile environment that has been created for Autistic CAMHS professionals.

Sign the petition here

Sign the open letter here

Check out Autistic and Living the Dream and Autistic Realms for more on autism and OCD!

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