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An enquiry into the mental health benefits of attending an autism group facilitated by Enrich +, using pre and post measures to evaluate anxiety reduction

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is estimated to affect one in every hundred New Zealanders. Males are more frequently affected by ASD than females, as evidenced by a 4:1 ratio, implying that females are frequently underrepresented in research. These individuals have poor social and communication skills, as well as repetitive patterns of behaviour. Comorbidities are prevalent in the autistic community, with more than 70% of individuals having at least one co-occurring condition. Anxiety and depression are of the utmost concern for the autistic community, with individuals experiencing generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) at a significantly higher rate than their neurotypical peers. Many ASD-specific group interventions are being developed in response to the growing number of diagnoses. There are numerous approaches to social skill interventions; however, many of these interventions focus on the core deficits of ASD, with very few incorporating mental health approaches. This study used a mixed methods formative evaluation approach to identify mental health and anxiety reduction benefits of attending a programme for females with ASD. The programme aims to encourage the participants to develop independence, extend their social circles, build friendships, and gain a sense of belonging. Participants included three females on the autism spectrum aged 15 to 32 who attended the programme on a regular basis. Direct observations, along with pre and post self-reported questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, were intended to be used to collect both quantitative and qualitative data, however, due to covid-19 disruptions not all research activities were able to be carried out. Findings suggest that regular attendance and participation in a facilitated autism group can potentially aid in anxiety reduction. Due to a limited sample size and the inability to gain sufficient data, the results of this study are inconclusive, however, it is still worthwhile to further evaluate autism-based groups and the impact they have on mental health and anxiety reduction.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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