With over 700,000 people having a diagnosis of autism, and the potential of many more people having the disorder but not having been diagnosed, it is essential that healthcare professionals and autism specialists understand how best to support people on the autistic spectrum.
Understanding and awareness of autism
According to Healthwatch, many people with autism and their families feel healthcare professionals, and GPs in particular, don’t understand enough about autism to refer them to the most suitable services. This belief is reinforced by research carried out by University College London last year that showed more than a third of GPs had not received any specific autism training.
It is vital that autism training is made available to GPs and that they take it, making them more able to refer their patients with autism appropriately. Autism specialists also have a role to play here, sharing their knowledge on how to support people with autism with doctors, social workers and other people involved in the person’s care.
Making healthcare settings autism-friendly
Many doctors’ waiting rooms or social service offices weren’t designed with people with autism in mind. They can be intimidating, loud, and make visiting a healthcare professional a stressful experience for someone with autism. There is a lot healthcare professionals can do to make their buildings easier for a person with autism to navigate.
This includes how staff members, who are often busy and stressed themselves, speak to people who have come to see them. People with autism and their families report that they can feel that healthcare professionals often seem rushed and unwilling to spend the time needed to explain what happens next, leaving those needing help worried and confused. When an autism specialist meets with someone for the first time, if this has been their experience, they can address it by taking the time needed to explain what is happening fully.
Getting referrals right
Every person with autism is different and needs different levels of support. Understanding what this support looks like starts with an initial assessment, one that should be done at the pace of the person with autism and include their family, friends, carers, and healthcare professionals, all working together to get the right outcome. When a person needs to access an autism service, it should be one such as Liaise, which employs autism specialists to work with the people in a person-centred way; this ensures support will be offered by people who understand what someone with autism needs.
Making information available
As people with autism move through the healthcare system, they should be provided with the information they need to make informed decisions. An autism specialist can help provide this information, taking the time the person being supported needs to help them make decisions on what they want or need. Family, friends and carers should receive information as well, helping set their mind at rest that the person with autism is getting the best support available.