Project Information


Research involving working with and interviewing autistic adults, social workers, and social care staff was conducted (led by Professor Mary Stewart see here  and funded by the Autistica Social Care Development Award. This led to the development of this project and the formation of this current research team. The thematic analysis of the interviews identified priorities and gaps in social care provision for older autistic adults.

An overarching theme was the need for training of the social care workforce. We found that training has tended to focus on increasing autism knowledge and awareness, and autistic deficits, rather than on the individual, their strengths, and strategies to support success. Furthermore, the training that does exist does not seem to be embedded into social work practice (Baron et al., 2019).

Older autistic people often have intersecting needs which can make them vulnerable and likely to need access to social care. However, there is a paucity of research involving autistic adults aged 50+.


Older autistic people are not receiving the support they require to thrive as they age (Hickey et al., 2018). Autism research has tended to focus on young people and children with little research on older autistic people addressing age-related support requirements (Bradshaw et al., 2020; Hwang et al., 2017; Michael, 2016; Rodgers et al., 2019).

Autistic people face particular challenges across their lives such as access to employment, vulnerable social networks, and higher rates of both physical and mental health conditions compared to non-autistic people. These challenges can be compounded by age-related changes in cognition, physical health, social support, and living circumstances (Geurts & Vissers, 2012; Hategan et al., 2017; Mukaetova-Ladinska, 2016; Sonido et al., 2020; Stewart et al., 2021; Wise et al., 2020).

In addition, autistic people may mask their autistic characteristics, which may mean that their support needs are not identified and appropriate support is not put in place (Bradley et al., 2021; Cook et al., 2021). Lastly, awareness and knowledge about autism has increased in recent decades. Some people over the age of 50 may not be diagnosed or be aware that they themselves may be autistic, while still presenting with needs related to their as-yet-unrecognised and undiagnosed, autism.

What is needed

There is a need to equip social workers with the skills to work with older autistic people. This is important as social workers can determine service provision and whether the older autistic person will have the care package required to thrive in older age.

Who will be involved

The research will involve a group of Community Researchers which comprises older autistic people (aged 50+), social workers and social care providers (Community Researchers) designing, evaluating and refining training resources.

What we will do

Training will be designed with both autistic people and social workers to upskill social workers, improve assessment, and engagement with services. Training will focus on strengths and inclusion, build on existing practice frameworks, and equip social workers to work with older autistic people. This project will co-produce training for social workers and provide recommendations for effective practice and training, adding to Baron et al.’s (2019) practice framework and handbook, and the BASW (2019) Capabilities Statement.

We will evaluate the impact of the training for (i) practicing and (ii) trainee social workers, and on the interactions between social workers and older autistic people. The exact nature of the evaluations will be determined with the project but will assess impact on rapport, communication, trust, and accessibility.

After the evaluation, the training material will be refined, finalised, and widely disseminated through the autism community, social care workers and providers, employers, unions, and local authorities. The training developed is likely to have a significant, positive impact specifically for social work and older autistic people, and more broadly for social care.

What the benefits will be

How will the project benefit the autistic community?

We will create training for social workers working with autistic older adults which will be publicly available for no cost. It is hoped that this new training will improve the experiences of social care for older autistic people and thereby improve their wellbeing and reduce the risk of autistic older adults experiencing crisis events such as hospitalisation.

This project will have multiple benefits to both care users and professionals:

1) Improve the experiences of and engagement with social care for older autistic people.

2) Improve the wellbeing and care of older autistic people.

3) Reduce the risk of older autistic social care users experiencing crisis events e.g., hospitalisation.

4) Improve the confidence and experience of social workers when interacting with older autistic social care users.

5) Reduce the burden on social workers and older autistic people by promoting higher quality and more efficient initial interactions and reducing the need for repeated services.

Further information

For general information about the different phases of the project, including a timeline, please see our General Information Sheet.

For information about the current phase of the project, please see the information sheet on Phase 1 Part 1 of the project.

For more information on social work, and social work with autistic older people, please have a look at our guidelines and frameworks for social workers page

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