In his quest to make research more accessible to those who need and use it, York psychology Professor Jonathan Weiss, the inaugural Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, has started a blog – ASD Mental Health.
“The main goal of our blog is to increase accessibility to research findings about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and mental health,” says Weiss.
What makes this blog different is its focus on mental health and ASD. “There is no other blog that focuses on mental health and ASD. And yet, up to 70 per cent of those with ASD suffer from associated mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety,” says Weiss.
The audience is for the blog is also different to other research blogs about ASD. “We’re clearly focused on the general public, people with ASD and their families. We want to obviously reach other audiences from scientists to students, policymakers and users, but the lay public is our main focus,” he says. “It’s really meant to complement other blogs.”
The ASD Mental Health blog highlights nationally and internationally important research from various journals that reflects good information about ASD and mental health. “Families often struggle to access information in a timely way from research findings,” says Weiss. “People want to access information in different ways and this is one of those ways.”
Weiss and his team also work with the knowledge mobilization unit at York to create research snapshots on a wide range of topics in a standardized, two-page layout. Graduate and undergraduate students, mainly in the Faculty of Health’s Department of Psychology, assist in translating the research information into the plain language snapshots with links to the full article.
“We’re trying to summarize the study in clear language in a way that anyone can read it,” he says. To this end, the articles are reviewed prior to publication by people with ASD or their family members to ensure they are clear and understandable.
In addition to the research snapshots, there are longer feature articles that talk about a particular matter, such as sexuality in ASD people or emergency services and care for adults with ASD. The topics include: bullying and victimization in youth with ASD; a review of research on mental health issues in youth with ASD; sex, relationships and ASD; emotional and behavioural problems in youth with ASD and how they relate to mothers’ mental health; cognitive behavioural therapy may help children with ASD with anxiety; and rates and risk factors of psychiatric disorder in children with ASD.
“My hope is it will help foster community engagement with research,” says Weiss. He stresses the blog is still in its infancy, but the aim is to post weekly on topics that are relevant and in the news. “We also just started posting on Facebook and Twitter.”
So far the feedback has been positive, he says.
He hopes it will grow and evolve to include things people can do to promote wellness and mental health in people with ASD and their families. He is happy to announce it came about as a result of the stakeholder meeting held since he was named the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research.
Led by Weiss, the research group plans to identify risk factors related to mental health problems in people with ASD, address these factors and associated mental health problems using novel treatments, and study how people with ASD and their family caregivers access mental health care across the country. Good mental health translates into better outcomes for people with ASD and for their families.
For more information, visit the ASD Mental Health blog.