A doctor’s appointment can be a daunting time for anyone, but for individuals on the autism spectrum, it can be an even more overwhelming experience.
I recently acquired my medical records from my GP and it was triggering to say the least. It clearly highlights the lack of understanding concerning my autistic condition.
The standard practices followed by doctors often fail to accommodate the unique needs and challenges faced by autistic patients. There is a definite need for doctors to adapt their practices to provide more inclusive and effective care.
Personally, I find one of the fundamental issues with the traditional doctor-patient interaction is the lack of specificity in questioning. Autistic individuals, like myself, often struggle with interpreting vague or open-ended questions. I struggle daily with the seemingly simple inquiries like “how are you?” as it can often induce stress and anxiety, knowing wether to respond literally or in a pleasantry fashion so a visit to the GP is definitely no walk in the park! I feel It is vital for doctors to ask specific questions that target the patient’s concerns and provide a clear framework for communication. The very fact this isn’t common practice (certainly through my experience) shows the lack of understanding and how much things need to change.
Autistic individuals possess unique characteristics and experiences that require specialised understanding and expertise from doctors. Dealing with the same doctor who is familiar with your condition can make a huge difference. Such a doctor should be well-versed in the intricacies of autism and able to comprehend the complex interplay between physical and mental health. By seeing a specialist who understands us, autistic patients can receive more accurate diagnoses, appropriate treatments, and personalised care plans.
Many autistic patients (and patients in general) can relate to the feeling of being rushed and pressured during doctor’s appointments. The limited time slots allotted for consultations often result in a superficial examination of multiple issues without delving into the specifics. This approach not only undermines the quality of care but also increases the risk of important aspects being overlooked. For individuals like myself, with comorbid conditions and overlapping symptoms, this hurried process can be detrimental and even trigger meltdowns.
A concerning aspect of doctors current approach is the ignorance and generalisation they exhibit towards autistic patients. It is disheartening when a doctor fails to acknowledge the impact of a late diagnosed autism spectrum disorder on mental health, such as the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ignoring or downplaying such connections perpetuates misunderstandings and prevents the provision of comprehensive care. Doctors must familiarise themselves with the intricacies of autism to avoid making uninformed statements that dismiss our experiences.
The medical profession has an ethical responsibility to provide inclusive treatment to all patients, regardless of their neurodiversity. The current practices fall short in meeting this standard. Doctors should aim to create a safe and supportive environment that accommodates the unique needs of autistic individuals. This can be achieved through longer consultation times, increased training on autism awareness, and actively listening to patients concerns, including those related to mental health.
The practice of doctors in dealing with autistic patients requires immediate attention and change. By recognising the importance of specificity in questioning, promoting specialised care, and adopting a more inclusive approach, doctors can greatly improve healthcare for autistic individuals. It is imperative that medical professionals adapt their practices to better understand and support the diverse needs of their autistic patients. Only then can we ensure that every person, regardless of their neurodiversity, receives the quality care they deserve.