Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) hosted Lisa Morgan, a consultant specializing in crisis support and suicide prevention for autistic people to inform people that they can help people with autism through their thoughts. SARRC is a nonprofit organization that offers evidence-based treatments, and creates inclusive communities for people with autism and their families.
Lisa Morgan is a consultant specializing in crisis support and suicide prevention for people with autism. In order to communicate with and support autistic people in crisis, Lisa founded and serves as co-chair of the American Association of Suicidology's (AAS) committee on autism and suicide.
Morgan has wanted to bring awareness to this cause ever since her husband’s death by suicide in 2015. She described the day as “haunting” and suffocating as six police officers huddled around her not knowing how to properly deal with an autistic person in a crisis. “It was all miscommunication and misunderstanding and I just didn’t want autistic people to have to go through this, I started advocating instead of teaching and so it changed my career,” said Morgan.
The daily challenges of people with autism result in sensory differences, executive functioning, communications skills, change and slower processing speed according to Morgan. Alexithymia is one of those challenges. “Alexithymia is the difficulty of explaining and feeling your emotions,” said Morgan. People with autism tend to mask their autism as a strategy to fit in with peers, colleagues, friends, family, according to Morgan. They do this to try to look and act like everyone else. People with autism fear if they show their true selves they have a higher chance of being rejected.
Due to the hardships of people with autism communicating their feelings. Studies show people with autism are 9 times more likely to think about, attempt, or die by suicide than the general public.
For people with autism, crisis support is recommended to prevent over-stimulation. Using their strengths is key in supporting people with autism during a crisis. “They are creative and honest”, says Morgan. Their honesty leads them to explaining their feelings and getting all their thoughts out. people with autism are very good at following rules, Morgan said after her husband died, she set rules for herself and lay in bed until I stopped having bad thoughts. Listening and having patience to an autistic person during a crisis is key, Morgan said.
During the presentation, the moderator read a question from an anonymous parent: “My child said he was going to kill himself in the same way he tells me what he wants for dinner. Do I take him seriously or is he just trying to see my reaction?” Morgan said no matter what people with autism say, it should be taken seriously.
Adebiyi Winifred is a mother of a 17-year-old who has autism. She said: “He has been expressing hopelessness and I wanted to find ways to help him.” Giving people with autism time to identify and explain their emotions is not only helpful for people with autism but for their family and friends.
“As a community it is important to know how to deal and prevent these situations,” said Morgan. Kamani Odina is studying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Odina said: in her line of work, she will be working with people with Autism and their families. It is helpful for her to hear exactly the kind of support they need from those around them. “Even more so, I want to be able to educate families, friends, and other professionals about the best way to help during a crisis,” said Odina.
It is key to understand the hardships people with autism go through and how they deal with a crisis. Morgan said it is crucial to understand autism and the culture of people with autism, "so they do not have to mask their autism is suicide prevention.”