Although individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) represent a small proportion of forensic psychiatric patients as a group they present with specific difficulties and needs. There is also evidence that if detained individuals with an ASD experience particular difficulties within custodial environments as a result of a mismatch between the difficulties associated with their ASD and the environmental demands. The purpose of this paper is to explore the experience of individuals with an ASD admitted to a high secure psychiatric care (HSPC) hospital.
Using both a semi-structured interview and a quality of life self-report measure (the Lancashire Quality of Life Profile) the experiences and views of seven patients with an ASD detained in one HSPC hospital were qualitatively explored.
Whilst a diverse range of negative and positive aspects of being within HSPC were identified by patients interviewed, those with prison experience thought HSPC was a less stressful environment with more therapeutic opportunities. As a group, patients with an ASD reported a similar or significantly better quality of life in many domains (global, leisure, financial and living situation) compared to other detained forensic patient groups.
Although most patients with an ASD interviewed reported positive experiences, there are a number of practical improvements that could be made within the hospital to reduce experienced stress levels and perhaps improve therapeutic outcomes.
Within the context of the Department of Health's autism strategy (2010) and subsequent update think autism (2014), the survey highlights continued ASD awareness training for staff as important. In responding to the risks and needs of individuals with an ASD in HSPC there is further support for the development of an ASD specialist service.