Make doctor appointments suitable for autism – Autism Parenting Magazine

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Visits to the doctor or hospital can be very stressful for someone with autism. A good doctor will provide inclusive service and make them as comfortable as possible.

Make doctor's appointments suitable for autism

Sharing the following tips and ideas with your doctor can help make medical appointments less stressful:

  • Autism is a spectrum disorder and can present very differently, especially in girls and women
    • Please look for autistic masking so as not to make assumptions based on more “classic” presentations of autism.
  • The stress of a medical appointment can affect things like blood pressure and can lead to situational “mute”
    • The more stressed a person becomes, the less able they will be to engage with a doctor or other healthcare professional. If someone is bringing someone with them for support, please ask who you need to talk to. Alternatively, writing or some other form of communication may be more appropriate
  • Individuals on the spectrum may not like being touched – always ask permission first, and if possible touch through clothing
  • People with autism may not feel comfortable making eye contact – please don’t attribute this to anything other than a different neurotype
  • Some people may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to pain. If these are new or irregular patients and you don’t know, please keep an open mind to other signs of pain.
  • Please avoid any negative language around autism such as deficit, impairment and even disorder.
    • In polls, the majority of the autistic community also stated that they greatly preferred the identity first language (autistic person) to the first person language (autistic person). Of course, individual preferences may differ
  • We know that people with autism respond to drugs differently from people with neurotypical disorders. Make sure you are aware of all known sensitivities and intolerances
  • Most individuals on the spectrum tend to use language more literally than neurotypical people. It is best to use precise and clear language that cannot be misinterpreted
  • Ask mostly “yes” or “no” questions (if possible). Remind the patient that it is okay not to know the answers to questions
  • People with autism may find it difficult to identify and describe pain, what it is feeling and where it is coming from. To learn more about this, please research interoception and proprioception
  • Strive to maintain an environment with low sensory arousal
    • Eliminate fluorescent lights and anything that emits noise as much as possible. Waiting rooms, with ringing phones, people talking, and loud TVs, are often a torturous sensory environment for those with exceptionally sensitive hearing.
  • People with autism may use different facial expressions than neurotypical people and may have difficulty judging facial expressions
    • Please do not use the facial expression of the autistic patient as part of a diagnosis, as you may not interpret it correctly
  • People with autism tend to value direct communication and may respond in the same way.
  • Some people with autism find using the phone to try to make a date quite stressful. It would be much more inclusive to offer other ways of making appointments, such as online. Likewise, offering virtual appointments instead of in-person appointments can be more inclusive (if possible and appropriate)
  • People with autism tend to hate change and things that go on without their knowledge
    • Please explain what is likely to happen and how long it is likely to take
  • It can be stressful to keep meeting with unfamiliar healthcare providers. If it is not possible to see the same doctor, keep notes that can be read by other practitioners before each appointment.
  • Avoid chatter and don’t stand too close unless necessary
  • Allow time for processing before waiting for a response or decision
  • If you return the patient with detailed instructions, please write them down
  • Encourage your patients to get an “autism passport” that they can give to healthcare providers in the event of hospitalization or emergency. Such a document can detail what will make the patient more comfortable and he struggles with

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These statements are generalizations since autism is a spectrum disorder, there are many differences between people with autism. As such, many will experience medical appointments differently. When treating patients, be aware that the disease often presents differently in girls and women. Research the term “masking” and make sure that strict adherence to the diagnosis by the classic presentation of autism does not lead to false assumptions. Autism research, from experts experienced in the autistic community. Be an ally.

This article was featured in Number 121 – Autism Awareness Month

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