With active organisations such as the National Autistic Society working to break down barriers, and campaigns like World Autism Awareness Week seeking to provide information about the condition, the world has become much more willing to adapt to the needs and unique perspectives of autistic individuals.

This kind of flexibility has never been more relevant and crucial than in a health care setting where empathy and consideration are paramount.

What should healthcare workers know about autism?

Autism is a developmental condition with a broad array of characteristics, and as such it is often known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder and is designated by the abbreviation ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Individuals with ASD all have a unique spot on this spectrum when it comes to functional and communicative skills.

High-functioning individuals – most typically with symptoms associated with social interaction – used to be more commonly diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, but are now usually considered part of the broad spectrum.

Autism symptoms that healthcare workers should recognise

One of the main issues associated with autism is that patients with this condition often struggle to communicate via traditional means. For some individuals, verbal speech in any form is limited or impossible.

Other patients, especially younger children, might express themselves through echolalia, repeating your words or questions.

In some cases, a patient might not have a problem forming words, but may struggle to understand social cues, read emotions, and respond appropriately.

In addition, people with autism can exhibit a range of behaviours that differ from neurotypical individuals. Healthcare workers might find that a patient acts out repetitive behaviours, sometimes known as ‘stimming’.

These activities are often designed to be calming, as many autistic individuals find that sensory input from the outside world can be overwhelming.

Increasingly, everyday venues – such as supermarkets and cinemas – open at designated times specifically for autistic individuals. These provisions allow for a quieter space and dimmer lights.

Through autism awareness training for your practice, you can identify how you might be able to adopt similar accommodations to allow autistic individuals, or parents of autistic children, to access your services.

Using autism awareness training in healthcare settings

Understanding the behavioural patterns associated with autism is crucial when operating in a healthcare environment.

One of the most important aspects of providing medical care is extracting information from your patient.

With an autistic individual, it might prove harder to get a definite answer about what symptoms they have, how long they have had these symptoms, or the severity of their pain and discomfort.

Autism awareness training will provide you with the communication tools that are required to sensitively and carefully support the patient and provide the necessary medical service.

Autism awareness training improves the experience of healthcare professionals

Autism awareness training isn’t just about making your patient’s life easier and calmer, but is also about providing you with the tools to feel comfortable, capable, and secure while doing your job.

For instance, being able to predict and understand sensory issues can help a medical appointment progress smoothly.

If you have the foresight to dim lights when safe to do so, or offer a sensory distraction for younger children, the patient will be much better supported.

This training can be particularly helpful in situations such as when a child with autism is due for their vaccinations.

Not only will it help you to provide the necessary service, but it will also ensure that you are more prepared and less at risk with the needle if the patient responds suddenly or becomes agitated.

The importance of adapting to communication technologies

In some cases, your patient with autism might not be able to communicate verbally. Instead, they might use one of several devices that are increasingly adopted in home and educational settings.

Recognising that a patient communicates via text, or through Makaton or other symbols, can be essential in providing a good quality of care and allowing you to get the answers that you require to provide medical assistance.

Technology also plays a big role in this provision, with tablet apps allowing patients to use words or images to describe their condition and respond to necessary questions.

Occasionally, autistic individuals might not be able to communicate verbally or with text and symbols. In this scenario, our autism awareness training can help you to know how to effectively communicate with the patient and their carer in a sensitive way.

Knowing how to correctly approach a patient who has limited communication means will enable you to provide the service with dignity and respect.

How does autism awareness training affect care for adults and the elderly?

Autism is often diagnosed during early development, particularly the toddler years, with an aim to provide early intervention in order to improve communication and social interaction skills.

ASD is also increasingly diagnosed in the adult population, however, particularly for those with high-functioning autism who suffer from social interaction issues.

Autism awareness training can help you to recognise the different forms of the condition in both children and adults, and adapt your approach accordingly.

Just like caring for a neurotypical child is different from interacting with a neurotypical adult patient, the needs of younger and adult patients with autism will differ significantly.

Although ASD is now a much more widely recognised condition, there are many patients who missed out on diagnosis in the past and have not been formally recognised as being on the spectrum.

It is crucial that healthcare providers are able to look out for the communication and social interaction signs and employ the same level of care and sensitivity in those cases as they do when a patient has a formal diagnosis.

When caring for elderly patients, medical professionals might have a combination of conditions to consider, such as arthritis and osteoporosis, as well as a neurodegenerative condition like progressive dementia.

Considering the possibility of autism, however, and approaching the situation with the due care and consideration will always ensure a smoother healthcare journey.

Each year in the UK, medical knowledge expands exponentially.

These improvements are not just in technologies and treatments, but also in the provision of healthcare.

Through comprehensive health care training, providers can continue to learn and adapt throughout their lives and careers.

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