Recently we ended up in the ER with some unexplained pain for Sno and I have to say I was completely gobsmacked with the complete and utter lack of understanding surrounding autism from some of the health professionals. So I figured I’d break it down. I am well aware that there isn’t always ample time to put all these steps into place but more often than not, it pays to be mindful of them.
Here’s my list of tips for health professionals on how to best support patients who are autistic.
- Introduce yourself. My child doesn’t know who you are, so a simple way of making her feel at ease is simply by introducing yourself. Don’t just come into the room and start questioning.
- Connect with my child first. Before you need to start any medical procedures or begin talking in medical jargon – make an effort to connect with my child and build trust. Perhaps you could ask how old they are, comment on their cool shoes or even show them your cool pen – it doesn’t matter what, but take a little moment or two, it helps my child feel at ease.
- Explain to my child what you need to do before you do it. Fear stems from lack of knowledge or understanding; hospitals can be scary places for children, autistic or not. But when you explain what instruments are for and how they work, the fear dissipates and you’re more than likely going to have a willing patient, rather than a scared and closed off one.
- Ask for their permission before touching their body. This again applies to all patients. Please do not touch my child’s body without their consent. Absolutely do not pull down their clothing without their permission.
- Don’t talk about my child with them in the room, as if they’re not there and can’t hear you. Asking me questions about my child that they could probably answer themselves just makes my child feel invisible. They deserve more respect than that. And finally;
- Get me onside. I don’t care how many years you’ve been in the medical profession or what kind of awesome doctor you are – none of that matters if you can’t treat my child with respect. Autistic children are complex and their issues may not always be clear to the outside looking in. So, if you want to help my child, you’ll need to listen to them and me. I know my child better than anyone else does, so you would do well to take my lead with how you approach her.
Small adjustments make the greatest impact. So maybe consider dimming the lights, turn the music off and taking a moment or two, if you can. Believe me when I say that a calmer child is more likely to cooperate and be helped by people they don’t know, so even though all of this stuff may seem like a lot of “work”, it’s worth it. Let’s all work together, hey? We all want the same outcome after all- a happy, healthy child.