My guest this week on Womens Radio Station was Dr Chris Papadopolous. He is a Public health university academic in autism, stigma, mental health, vulnerable populations, social robotics at Bedfordshire University.

Recently I was interviewed on The Autism Podcast by Chris hence this week it was my turn to interview him .

Dr Chris Papadopolous shares :

It was a pleasure and honour to be invited to talk with Anna Kennedy OBE on the Women’s Radio Station. We began by talking about my personal experiences in relation to autism including my experiences of the services we received as a family when my son was diagnosed in 2013. While we were fortunate to be able to gain a diagnosis quickly and early on in my son’s life, we also observed the striking lack of state-based support available in terms of next supportive steps for my son and, in particular, my wife and I.

This experience led to two pieces of work that I have been embarking since then and talked about during the interview. First, it led me towards developing a research intervention called ‘Solace’ which is a ‘stigma-protecting’, mental health support group for new parents/carers of children recently diagnosed or are about to be diagnosed.

As I discussed in the interview, there are many reasons why parents/carers who are new to the world of autism may be vulnerable to poor mental health including the fact that they may not understand autism beyond the many negative misconceptions and stereotypes that are unfortunately and unfairly attached to autism, and, connected with this, they may blame themselves for the situation they find themselves in. The ‘Solace’ intervention aims to combat this by highlighting the many positives of autism, busting the misconceptions, giving hope for the future and connecting parents/carers with others on a similar point in their journey.

We have recently completed a pilot feasibility randomised controlled trial and have observed very positive results which will be published later this year. We hope Solace can be commissioned by local authorities, charities and other organisations so that parents/carers are left isolated post-diagnosis as so often they currently are.

Second, it led to me forming the London Autism Group in 2014 later after I observed that there was no London-specific support available. The group, which is a closed and private Facebook group for anyone who lives in or near to London and whose lives have been influenced by autism in some way (accessible at: https://facebook.com/groups/272747662886046) enables group members to find support, both in terms of psychological and emotional support, and information about resources and services available across London.

Connected to this, James Gordon, one of the London Autism Group admin members and now Charity trustee, has developed the ‘London Autism Group Services Map’ which is a great way to easily find such information in your area (to access this go to: http://tinyurl.com/LAG-service-map).

As I explained during the interview, two years later in 2016, on the back of the success of the group, we decided to form the London Autism Group Charity which aims to reduce autism stigma and promote social acceptance and inclusion. Autism stigma is a critical problem that leads to discrimination, social exclusion and ultimately poor mental health and therefore we must find ways to combat this.

The Solace intervention represents part of that (being that it is a ‘stigma protecting’ intervention) but in terms of the charity, we have also launched ‘The Autism Podcast’. The podcast aims to improve our understanding of autism, boost acceptance, reduce autism stigma, and generate impactful, transformative ideas ranging from practical everyday advice to thoughts on policy, practice, and wider socio-cultural challenges. It is accessible at: https://theautismpodcast.podbean.com/ and via any podcast app. Anna kindly participated in an episode earlier this year in which we talked her experiences and the work she has been involved with.

For the immediate future, my charity trustees and I are planning to expand the podcast further, fund a small-grant scheme and provide an advocacy service. All of our activities will ultimately be aimed at reducing autism stigma, boosting acceptance and improving the mental health and quality of life of autistic people and their families.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk through all of this and also very much look forward to judging the upcoming 2019 Charity Autism Hero Awards. It will be inspiring to learn more about the wonderful work others are doing towards producing positive impact.’

If you missed our live interview on Women’s Radio Station you can listen again at 1pm everyday this week: www.womensradiostation.com

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