Integrating Autism and Mental Health Services in Ontario

Research indicates that children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have significantly higher rates of mental health issues than kids in the general population. The prevalence of mental health disorders in young people with autism is more than four times higher than in their non-ASD peers.

These young people often go undiagnosed and are underserved by a system that currently treats youth with autism and those with mental health needs as two separate and distinct populations. The lack of appropriate services can have a significant impact on youth and their families and can limit their ability for positive and healthy lives in adulthood.

Kinark brought together more than 20 child and youth autism and mental health organizations from across the province to produce the policy paper Putting Children and Youth First: Integrating Autism and Mental Services in Ontario. This paper looks at the scientific literature, examines the challenges associated with serving this population, reflects the lived experiences of families trying to cope with this dual diagnosis, and puts forward recommendations to improve service development and delivery.

70% of children with ASD also had a comorbid mental health condition while 40% of them had two or more disorders
(Fung, Lunsky, & Weiss, 2015)
People with ASD and mental health disorders have higher rates of hospitalization compared to those without a mental health disorder
(Lunsky et al., 2013; Nayfack et al., 2014).

Since releasing the paper in 2019, Kinark in collaboration with Children’s Mental Health Ontario, led a provincial Think Tank – Integrating Autism and Mental Health Services in Ontario, focused on integrated action planning for better outcomes for this cohort of children and youth. The Think Tank brought together researchers, clinical and program experts, youth and parents with lived experience, mental health and autism practitioners, and others from across sectors to seize on the opportunity we have at this time when both autism services and child and youth mental health services in Ontario are transforming.

What attendees said: