Our charity has been campaigning for years to bring down the number of autistic people in mental health hospitals, including ATUs, alongside autistic people, their families and other charities. The system is broken, and too many autistic children and adults can end up stuck in mental health hospitals, far from their families and communities. We need a properly funded solution so, wherever possible, autistic people can get the support they need in their community.

Given our campaigning position, we understand why people would be concerned if someone we support in our charity’s schools or adult services ends up in the mental health hospital. Here, we describe how something like this can happen – and why we think this makes our campaigning even more urgent.

Our schools and services are places where autistic children and adults should be safe and thrive, and our staff work hard to ensure they do. Our aim is to run high-quality social care services and schools, and we are proud that they are rated above national averages on key measures by social care and education regulators.

Where our charity cannot provide the right support

If someone in our schools or services becomes unhappy or distressed, we do all we can to work things out. But there are rare occasions where our staff come to the conclusion that a school or social care service we run is no longer the right place for them. When this happens it’s our duty and responsibility to make the local authority aware, so they can find the right service or school for them.

We will work with the council, health services (if this is relevant), the person concerned and their family as much as we can to help this happen. Our role is to support the person’s transition to whatever service the local council or health trust decide is right, and we do not have any legal rights in choosing the service.

There should be a full range of support

We have always believed and advocated for a range of different services and support to fit the huge diversity in autistic people’s needs. In any area of the country, our charity’s social care and education services will represent only a fraction of the range of services that exist or are needed for autistic people. If someone has a level of needs that one of our services isn’t designed for, we want that person to get good quality care from another source. In rare circumstances, that care may need to be in an inpatient environment. But this should be for as short a time as possible and with staff who really understand autism, autism-friendly environments and ways of working.

Appallingly, when a school or service is no longer suitable, autistic people sometimes end up in mental health hospitals when they have no mental health problem and are not in crisis. All they need is the right support in the community, but there simply aren't the places available. We want to stop people getting stuck in inpatient care and have analysed how local councils, health services and providers in general could prevent admissions in this recent report. We’ve also campaigned, and continue to campaign, to try and stop autistic people being trapped in mental health hospitals.

Our practical experience means we know what needs to change

Our social care services and schools work within current health and care structures, so we’re very aware of where the problems are and what needs to change – namely the lack of appropriate services for autistic people to move into in the community and the lack of understanding of autism within existing inpatient care. This is a national disgrace and we are actively campaigning to push for the policy changes needed to end this scandal. This means more community-based services, where people are supported by staff who really understand autism and don’t rely on restraint, seclusion or over-medication. This will only happen when the Government and the NHS sort out the funding problems that make it easier to spend money on hospital care than on good quality care in the community. You can read more about our campaigning for better community-based services and holding the Government to account for its promise to reduce the number of people in mental health hospitals in the news section of our website.

Further information

Read more stories about autistic people who’ve been stuck in inpatient care in our Transforming Care: our stories report and find out about the extent of the scandal in our Beyond Transforming Care report.

For information about what to do if an autistic family member is at risk or has been admitted to or discharged from a mental health hospital, visit our page on autism and mental health.

Bringing us Together have produced this very useful Survival Guide for care and treatment reviews.

Read our recent news story, setting out what’s wrong with mental health hospitals and what we can all do to support the vital campaigns to change this unacceptable situation.