Autistic people experience substantial health disparity, including both poorer mental (e.g., depression) and physical (e.g., long-term conditions) health compared to non-autistic people. There is also substantial variability in these health outcomes within the autistic population. However, little is known about how mental and physical health interact in autism – particularly, how physical health contributes to mental health outcomes – and the mechanisms that underpin within-autism variability. Integrating mental and physical health, this multi-method project will investigate biopsychosocial mechanisms that contribute to variability in mental health outcomes in autistic people, by:
1) Using existing longitudinal data to test how health behaviours (e.g., physical activity) predict longitudinal trajectories of mental health in autism.
2) Generating novel data to test how cognitive and behavioural responses to core autistic characteristics (e.g., sensory sensitivities) contribute to mental health outcomes, using a health psychology framework.
Overall, this innovative research will provide a more holistic understanding of health in autism, and inform much needed tailored mental and physical health support for autistic people; for example, highlighting which interventions might work for which individuals. Importantly, to maximise the impact of the research for the autism community, a co-development group of autistic adults will meaningfully inform the research at all stages.
Skill Development: systematic review; advanced quantitative data analysis; participatory research
Year 1: Systematic review on health disparities in autism; longitudinal analysis training
Year 2: Study 1 analysis of longitudinal dataset; Study 2 data collection in autistic people (examining the associations between cognitive and behavioural responses to core autistic characteristics, health behaviours and mental health outcomes)
Year 3+: Study 2 data analysis; finalise thesis