Training Needs of Health Professionals Working with Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Objectives: To undertake an assessment of the needs of Australian health professionals in relation to their provision of care to adults on the Autism spectrum.
Methods: We recruited 78 health professionals from across Australia, using purposive and snowballing approaches, to complete an online survey about providing health care to adults on the Autism spectrum. The survey consisted of 39 open-ended and closed questions and was open for completion from December 2014 to February 2015. Questions sought information on health professional and patient demographics, self-assessment of health professional competence and training needs. Descriptive data analysis was performed on closed questions. Open-ended data were analysed using content analysis.
Results: The 78 health professionals came from a broad range of health professions. Most commonly the professionals worked as a nurse (18%), other including psychiatrists (18%), occupational therapist (14%), psychologist (13%) or medical practitioner (13%). The vast majority 79% (62/78) were female, with most aged 45-64 years (63%), 28% aged 25-44 years, 6% aged 18-24 years and 3% aged 65 years or older.
On average, health professionals (n=68) saw 22 (SD 27) adults on the Autism spectrum every year, who had a mean age of 32 (SD 19) years. More than half of the adults on the Autism spectrum (60%, 41/68) also had intellectual disability and only 14% (10/69) attended appointments on their own. Health professionals were asked to rank up to three of the most common medical conditions of the adults they cared for and these included mental health, general health including check-ups, gastrointestinal, neurological and metabolic.
Two thirds (62%, 48/78) of the health professionals agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel competent providing care to adults with ASD”. Most frequently, professionals stated an interest or knowledge of Autism helped them provide services to the adults they cared for but that a lack of training, knowledge, time, experience and resources made it difficult for them to provide this care. The majority (83%, 54/65) strongly agreed or agreed that they would like more training specific to caring for adults on the spectrum and the most preferred modes of receiving training were workshops, webinars, electronic and hard copy reading material, and online courses. Areas identified for training included behaviour management, mental health, communication and teaching.
Conclusions: This study found that even amongst a group of health professionals who often provided services to adults on the Autism spectrum, while they felt competent in providing care, they still wanted more training specific to caring for adults on the Autism spectrum, particularly in the areas of behaviour management and mental health.