The first significant peer-reviewed study into autism and homelessness has recently been published, in the journal Autism.
Researchers from University College London and Kensington & Chelsea Learning Disability Service found evidence suggesting that autistic adults are over-represented among the homeless population.
They have called for more research to understand the links between autism and homelessness, to help prevent autistic people becoming homeless and to improve support for those already homeless.
The National Autistic Society has not been involved in the research but wants to draw attention to the findings as this is an important and under discussed issue. At the same time, the Scottish Government has published statistics that reveal Scottish local authorities received 34,972 applications for homelessness assistance between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, 1 per cent higher than the same period during 2016/17.
Anecdotal reports from autism clinicians and keyworkers, as well as two small studies from a few years ago, have suggested that there may be high numbers of autistic people in the homeless population. This is the first academic research to look at this issue properly.
The researchers gathered initial evidence about the prevalence of autistic traits in homeless people. They worked with one homeless outreach team in the UK and screened 106 people they support to see if they could be autistic.
The found that 12.3 per cent of homeless people had a range of autistic ‘traits’ in line with diagnostic criteria. This is substantially higher than the general population autism prevalence of 1 per cent. It is not clear if this 12 per cent were actually autistic, but the screening suggested that they could be. This could equate to more than 4,000 homeless people in Scotland being autistic.
This is an important and robust study, which suggests that there could be a significant number of homeless autistic adults potentially living without an understanding of their needs or appropriate support. Many autistic people struggle to get the support they need and face huge difficulties throughout their lives, including high rates of mental health problems, underemployment and social isolation. We’ve heard of autistic adults falling through gaps in support and into homelessness but there’s very little research into this or awareness as an issue.