More people with autism are able to access Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust’s (LPT) new text messaging service to access personalised advice and support as part of a year-long pilot.

ChatAutism is a free and confidential service run by the Trust’s Specialist Autism Team (SAT) and is now open to anyone living in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland with autism. This includes children and adults of all ages, as well as their families and/ or carers. The service will now also take questions from people who think they have autism or are awaiting a diagnosis.

The service can provide support on topics such as:

  • emotional wellbeing
  • how to have a healthy lifestyle
  • how to have healthy relationships
  • advice on drugs, alcohol and smoking
  • support with understanding autism
  • signposting to helpful resources
  • assessment and diagnosis advice.

The service is safe and easy to use. Support can be accessed by texting 07312 277097 and a response will be sent within 24 hours during Monday to Friday.

ChatAutism is the first and only service in the United Kingdom offering text-based healthcare for autistic people. It was initially launched in November (2021) by the SAT to bolster its support for autistic people aged 14 and over, including adults. Since then demand has rapidly increased, leading to the team employing an additional health professional to support the service. ChatAutism was also recently selected as a finalist for the prestigious national Nursing Times Award for its innovative use of technology.

Feedback from those who have used the service has been overwhelmingly positive, with people frequently commenting on the ease of using the service, the quality of the advice received, and the compassion shown from the health professionals responding.

Faye Harwood, LPT’s digital practitioner for the SAT, said: “We are so proud of this new service and we are just so happy that it is really helping people and making a difference to their lives.

“Studies have shown that text messaging is often a less stressful way for autistic people to communicate; it allows them to put thoughts down, gives them time to digest messages, think things through and compose a response without the pressure to reply immediately. It can also be easier for autistic people to understand what the other person means without all the additional social cues that come with conversing in person.

“We are excited about the next phase of this service and are hoping to be able to help even more people. After listening to feedback, we decided to open up our access criteria to include advice and support covering autistic children and those who are awaiting a diagnosis or think they may be autistic, as part of a year-long pilot. So we’d encourage anyone who would like our support to get in touch.”

The ChatAutism service was developed using the Trust’s multi-award-winning ChatHealth technology. During the development stages, autistic people of all ages, as well as their parents and carers, were involved to identify what considerations and adjustments could be made to support them and make ChatAutism a success, such as avoiding ambiguous language in messages.

Helen Thompson, LPT’s director of families, young people and children and learning disability services, said: “The NHS Long Term Plan highlights that the use of digital technology in healthcare can act as a gateway for people to access important services and information. Using this technology is helping us to broaden access to healthcare and reduce health inequalities for autistic people.

“We hope that by providing new ways for autistic people and their families and carers to get early help for common health issues, it will mean they won’t become worse or need more specialist treatments. However, for those who need more intensive support that get in touch through ChatAutism, we are able to refer them on to get the help they need from our Specialist Autism Team or other services.”

The Specialist Autism Team was established during the Covid-19 pandemic to support those with an autism diagnosis aged 14 and above, including into adulthood. The primary aim of the work they do is to improve the quality and care for autistic people, with a focus on early intervention to help people to remain living in the community and avoid being admitted into hospital. Since launching, the team has supported more than 200 people through interventions, such as educational workshops and more intensive one to one support.

Find out more about the Specialist Autism Team and ChatAutism.