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American Association of Suicidology Releases Guidelines to Help Autistic Crisis Line Callers

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Crisis centers across the country will be equipped with a toolkit to help workers better support people on the autism spectrum. The resource was a collaboration between the American Association of Suicidology’s (AAS) Autism and Suicide Committee and Common Ground, a crisis center in Michigan.

The resource will be used to enhance communications between crisis support workers and autistic people who call or text a center. The toolkit, which is available for free on the AAS website, will help crisis support workers in “building rapport with autistic individuals, ensuring more effective intervention.”

People on the autism spectrum have a higher risk of suicidality, but there isn’t much research into the potential reasons for the heightened risk. A recent study states there may be “unique factors” associated with autism or autistic traits and an increased suicide risk. Other risk factors include unmet support needs and “masking” in social situations as well as factors shown in the general population — such as self-harm, employment issues and mental health conditions — which are more prevalent in the autism community.

The toolkit was authored and developed by Lisa Morgan, co-chair of AAS Autism and Suicide Committee, who is also autistic. The resource gives pointers to crisis support workers in identifying if someone is possibly on the spectrum if the caller doesn’t disclose or doesn’t know they are on the spectrum. Some of these pointers include if the caller expresses sensory difficulties, has trouble identifying or verbalizing emotions and exhibits unusual patterns of speech as well as echolalia — repeating words or responses.

Morgan also provides specific steps or suggestions on how best to help someone who is autistic. Crisis support workers should use direct and shorter questions while avoiding metaphors or social nuances. Morgan writes that support workers should explain why positive coping skills, specifically distractions, could work instead of just giving suggestions. Crisis support workers should also allow more time for processing thoughts, even if the caller is quiet for a while.

The toolkit will be digitally available at every accredited AAS crisis center across the country. AAS highly recommends each center integrates the toolkit into training and protocols for its workers and volunteers. AAS has around 120 centers in the U.S., according to its site.


Photo via Getty Images/Filip_Krstic

Originally published: October 24, 2018
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