The SHAPE project: mapping and evaluating Specialist Autism Team service models

This project is evaluating Specialist Autism Teams, and investigating their role in supporting autism-specialist practice in mainstream services.

Supporting autistic adults: an interview with Prof Bryony Beresford from National Autistic Society on Vimeo.

SPRU research team

External collaborators

Project summary

The 2010 Autism Strategy was published by the Government in response to high levels of concern about the health and well-being of adults with autism, including those with Asperger syndrome (AS). This condition is more common than previously thought; it is estimated that 1 in 200 adults have this diagnosis. Many experts believe the lack of holistic, autism specialist services is a key reason why so many adults with AS experience significant difficulties. 

The Autism Strategy requires localities to improve support for adults with AS. It recommends specialist, community based, multi-disciplinary teams are set up to provide,  coordinate and oversee services. Recent national guidance for the management of autism in adults called these teams ‘Specialist Autism Teams’ (SATs).  However, no evidence exists about the staffing of these teams and how they should operate. As a result a number of different ‘service models’ have emerged among the small number of localities which have developed a SAT. For example, some SATs only serve adults with HFA and AS whereas others support adults across the autism spectrum. Equally, some SATs primarily support other professionals in their work with adults with HFA/AS whereas others engage in a lot of direct work with individuals.

This project will investigate the different SAT service models which currently exist. It will compare them in terms of their impact on the lives of adults accessing their services; their costs; and service user experiences. There are two stages to the study. First, we will establish the different types of SATs which have been set up across England. Second, we will select examples of the different types and take a detailed look at whether they are making a difference to users’ lives. We will also investigate whether a particular type(s) of SAT works better than other types of SAT. Service users in our research sites will be invited to take part in the project over a 12 month period.

Data on users’ well-being, psychosocial and economic outcomes will be collected at assessment and 3, 6 and 12 months later. We will also interview a sub-sample of service users and family members, as well as professionals working in, or with, the SATs. The interviews will explore how SATs do/do not support the achievement of positive changes in the lives of adults with HFA/AS, and whether experiences differ between different SAT service models. Finally, we will estimate the costs of the different SAT models and investigate whether the cost of providing particular services (eg. diagnosis,social support) varies between teams. Once complete, a range of reports/guidelines for the different audiences who will find the research findings useful will be written. We will also present the research findings at conferences & other events.

Additional information

September 2014 - March 2019