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Making Your Practice Autism-Friendly, Part 2

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

If you haven't read part 1, you can find it here.

Get Down With the Lingo

If you’re going to treat autistic people for medical conditions, you need to understand some fundamental aspects of culture. You should have basic fluency on these issues:

  • Preference for identity-first language (though if the patient corrects you, you’ll use the terminology they prefer.)

  • LGBTQ+ identity in the autistic community

  • Medical-related psychological trauma and C-PTSD

  • Use of AAC and/or sign language as the primary communication method or to augment communication

  • Preference for direct communication

Truly, you could have the worst physical environment imaginable, but demonstrating an understanding of autistic social issues will overcome most environmental factors.

Understand the History

Of all of my advice, this piece could truly save lives. Autistic people have often experienced mistreatment by medical providers, and many have been harmed by preventable medical errors. Your patient may have experienced any or all of the following:

  • Ignored or minimized physical symptoms, which may have led to serious complications and permanent disability

  • Unrecognized psychiatric comorbidities, which may be disabling

  • Inadequate pain management

  • Over-medication to control behavior, particularly in childhood

  • Ableist language or behavior, including statements (i.e. “you don’t look autistic”) or overgeneralization and stereotyping (i.e. “autistic people can’t …")

  • Infantilizing by medical staff, including speaking to a companion instead of the patient, failing to explain procedures to sufficient detail to allow for full consent, etc.

Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it. Caring for marginalized groups requires an understanding of their unique culture and barriers to care. Applying these practices will ensure the safety of your patients and make their care much more rewarding for both of you.

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