Health and wellbeing

Some of the key priorities for autistic people are around wellbeing. This includes aspects of mental and physical health, as well as access to therapies, support and interventions.

The Autism Centre of Excellence at Cambridge (ACE) is working on projects that aim to improve the health and the wellbeing of autistic people by developing and championing evidence-based approaches.

As well as ensuring that these are underpinned by world-class research evidence, we will work with partner organisations to develop ways of making support available to as many autistic people as possible.

Current health and wellbeing projects include music therapy and suicide prevention:

1. Music therapy for autistic children

Improvisational music therapy involves the therapist and child spontaneously creating music together using singing, playing, and movement, with the therapist following the child’s interests and focus of attention. It has the potential to improve the lives of autistic people, especially in relation to wellbeing and improved day-to-day living skills.

One study found more reports of joy and shared emotional experiences when autistic children were engaged in improvisational music therapy compared to play sessions.

The Autism Centre of Excellence is providing funding of one million pounds for a new study by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. The researchers will test the effectiveness of improvisational music therapy by conducting a randomised controlled trial (RCT) with 200 UK-based autistic children aged 7 to 11 years old. The main outcome being tested is improvement in social communication. Should the study find that improvisational music therapy is effective and acceptable to autistic people, we will work with providers to make it more widely available.

2. Suicide prevention

Research suggests that autistic people are at an increased risk of both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts compared to non-autistic people. It is thought that 35% of autistic people have planned or attempted suicide. This is nine times the rate than in the general UK population, accounting for approximately 150,000 autistic adults.

The Autism Centre of Excellence at Cambridge aims to co-design a range of support initiatives for autistic people to both prevent crises and provide support during crises, with a long-term aim of reducing the likelihood of suicide.

Once a model has been developed, we will work to ensure it is underpinned by the highest quality research evidence, and then made available as widely as possible.


3. Autism diagnosis

Waiting lists for an autism diagnosis are often at least two years, sometimes much longer. The Autism Centre of Excellence at Cambridge is working in partnership with researchers and healthcare organisations to explore a faster diagnostic process, which means getting access to the right support sooner.

If the new process is shown to be effective, we will work with autistic people and partners to promote its global implementation, so that tens of thousands of autistic people can benefit from a faster diagnosis and earlier access to support. 

“Had it not been for my research into autism to help my grandson, I may never have got the answers to all those ‘why’ questions about myself. When I was finally diagnosed at the age of 61 it was a ‘Eureka’ moment. It has already made a huge difference to me and my family; I now know how to manage my life and can be honest with people instead of making excuses to avoid certain things which cause me problems.” 

David Thorburn

Late-diagnosed autistic person


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Next: Education

The Autism Centre of Excellence wants to ensure every autistic child can fulfil their potential in an educational setting that is right for them. Find out what we’re doing about it.

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The Autism Centre of Excellence at Cambridge (ACE) translates research excellence into transformational support, bringing evidence-based approaches to autistic people around the world through our ground-breaking partnerships.

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