Most of us get slightly anxious about going to the GP.
What if it turns out that nothing’s wrong? Maybe our sniffles are minor and we have wasted the doctor’s time? What if they tell me I’m overweight and I need to change my diet? What happens if I do have a serious problem?
Despite these minor concerns, most of us are happy to book an appointment, walk to the surgery and sit in the waiting room whilst we wait our turn to go in.
But what if you’re autistic? What if you have trouble communicating verbally to the receptionist? What if there are children playing with blocks loudly in the corner of the room and the noise is getting too much? What if the baby crying in her mother’s arms is hurting your ears? What if the lights are too bright? What if the sounds and smells of the doctor’s waiting room are too overwhelming for you to even enter the building?
Even though autistic people might have many concerns about going to the GP, surely the thought of being in a safe place surrounded by professionals that should understand autism is enough to put their mind to rest. Surely, a GP would ready medical notes prior to the patient entering the room and be aware of their autism or aspergers diagnosis.
Sadly, this did not happen when we I took my aspergers son to visit the doctor today. The whole reason for writing this blog is to spread awareness that even now, GP’s can overlook hidden disabilities and create a situation that is both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Sat today in the doctor’s waiting room, my son who is PDA and aspergers was quite happy sat in his own little world playing a game on my phone.
Before long, the doctor called my sons name and we started walking down to the doctor’s office, whilst walking my son has one hand on his phone watching his game and the other hand locked into mine. I could see the doctor looking at me and then looking down at my son.
At that point, I was sure he had guessed the reason why my sons head was buried in his phone whilst walking down to the room.
Oh, how wrong was I?
We both took a seat and I begin to explain why we were there. At this point I close my mouth pretty fast as I listen to the doctor cut me short to brazenly question my parenting.
“Well, the first problem is that phone!”, he exclaimed.
He then went on to describe to me all the reasons why my son should not be on his phone … he went on “he (my son) must put his phone down and be conscious of his surroundings as people have died and being injured whilst not paying attention. Did you know that people have taken selfies and fallen off cliffs as they are fascinated with their mobile device?”
My jaw must of hit the floor as I looked at him in shock. I quickly picked it back up.
“For a start my son was not in danger whilst he was walking down the corridor. He was not about to die and had hold of my hand.”
I went on .. “Next, my son is autistic and my parenting skills are used to keep my child’s anxiety at bay. If he feels happy and safe looking at his phone instead of you I do not see the issue, now can we talk about what we are here for now?”
I turn to look at my son and see his little cheeks flare up, I see him start twitching his fingers on his face to try and hide further into his console. He feels uncomfortable now.
The doctor should now understand, right?
I ask my son to explain to the doctor what was happening with his throat.
My son shouts .. “No, I don’t want to tell him anything”
The trust has gone and the appointment has gone downhill fast.
We discuss further, the doctor now wants to check my son’s throat and ears. No prewarning is given and before I know it, he started to hold my son’s head whilst checking his ears and throat. I thought my son was going to explode. His anxiety was through the roof – he is sensitive to touch and others coming close into his personal space, luckily the doctor had him on a calmer day and my son allowed it.
We left the doctors with my son feeling questioned as to why he had to look at the man? Why did he have to put his phone down in the waiting room? Why did mummy have to tell the doctor he was autistic? Why do some doctors understand me and others don’t?
The Centre for Research in Autism and Education at UCL recently teamed up with the Royal College of General Practitioners to find out how much GPs know about autism, whether they had any autism training and what GPs’ experiences were of working with their autistic patients. Shockingly, the results showed that, of the 304 GPs surveyed, 39% had not received any autism training. What’s more, of the GPs who had received autism training, almost 40% didn’t find it very useful. It is not surprising, then, that GPs also reported having little confidence in caring for their autistic patients. Given that autism affects one in 100 people – over 700,000 people in the UK – these are deeply troubling findings.