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Approaches to improving mental health care for autistic children and young people: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Pemovska, T., Loizou, S., Appleton, R. , Spain, D., Stefanidou, T., Kular, A., Cooper, R., Greenburgh, A., Griffiths, J., Barnett, P., Foye, U., Baldwin, H., Minchin, M., Brady, G., Saunders, K. R. K., Ahmed, N., Jackson, R., Olive, R. R., Parker, J. ORCID: 0000-0001-5179-729X, Timmerman, A., Sapiets, S., Driskell, E., Chipp, B., Parsons, B., Totsika, V., Mandy, W., Pender, R., Clery, P., Lloyd-Evans, B., Simpson, A. & Johnson, S. (2024). Approaches to improving mental health care for autistic children and young people: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, doi: 10.1017/s0033291724001089


Autistic children and young people (CYP) experience mental health difficulties but face many barriers to accessing and benefiting from mental health care. There is a need to explore strategies in mental health care for autistic CYP to guide clinical practice and future research and support their mental health needs. Our aim was to identify strategies used to improve mental health care for autistic CYP and examine evidence on their acceptability, feasibility, and effectiveness. A systematic review and meta-analysis were carried out. All study designs reporting acceptability/feasibility outcomes and empirical quantitative studies reporting effectiveness outcomes for strategies tested within mental health care were eligible. We conducted a narrative synthesis and separate meta-analyses by informant (self, parent, and clinician). Fifty-seven papers were included, with most investigating cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based interventions for anxiety and several exploring service-level strategies, such as autism screening tools, clinician training, and adaptations regarding organization of services. Most papers described caregiver involvement in therapy and reported adaptations to communication and intervention content; a few reported environmental adjustments. In the meta-analyses, parent- and clinician-reported outcomes, but not self-reported outcomes, showed with moderate certainty that CBT for anxiety was an effective treatment compared to any comparison condition in reducing anxiety symptoms in autistic individuals. The certainty of evidence for effectiveness, synthesized narratively, ranged from low to moderate. Evidence for feasibility and acceptability tended to be positive. Many identified strategies are simple, reasonable adjustments that can be implemented in services to enhance mental health care for autistic individuals. Notable research gaps persist, however.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited. Copyright © The Author(s), 2024.
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
SWORD Depositor:
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