I Can’t Do Everything: Autistic in the ER

The following is a submission that deals with an autistic person’s experience in the hospital. If this would be triggering to you, please use your discretion to decide whether or not to read it. –Elliott

I was accepted into the hospital as “an autistic person not behaving appropriately.” This meant I was stimming (flapping hands and pacing) to deal with a trigger (flickering and flashing lights), and had been hitting my head on the wall and pounding my fists against my head. I didn’t see fit to correct anyone as they labeled me in this overly-simplified this way in that moment. It’s not my job to let my own suffering be a constant source of teaching moments.

In hindsight, and now that I am feeling better, I realize how often I am treated like this and that it is a problem. After being taken by ambulance to the hospital, staff there did exactly nothing to help the initial situation. They looked down on me and treated me like I was an annoyance rather than a legitimate patient—the same way people treat me when they learn I have an autism diagnosis.

Dear hospital staff, I am not below you because I am not on the same developmental trajectory that you are on. I see this problem in many complaints from autistic folks about how they are treated by allistic people, even allistic professionals. I think the misunderstanding is that we are not competent, when the reality is that we simply express ourselves and process things in different ways. Therefore it is critical to presume competence, remembering that difference in processing information is not a defect, but a matter of diversity instead.

I wish I had the opportunity to educate hospital staff on what can help an autistic person who’s going through a difficult time, such as the use of comfort objects, weighted blankets, and especially communication devices. This should be protocol for autistic patients—helping our sensory system and providing for our diverse communication needs—and yet, it isn’t. So I’d like to open it up to the larger community: What would help you best when you have to go to the hospital? What sort of needs do you have, and how might they be best fulfilled? In the future, the Unpuzzled Project may put together a resource kit for hospitals to use in instances like this. It’s not something we’d like to leave alone, as it potentially affects so many of us.


5 thoughts on “I Can’t Do Everything: Autistic in the ER

  1. Patricia

    My husband is in medical school, and I’ve been forwarding links like this to the student advisory people. I’m in Texas, and would love to connect with people on the spectrum who could speak to the school about this kind of thing. Not sure if you’re in a position to do something like that where you live, but if you have a relationship with someone at a med-school, or know someone who does, they may appreciate the head’s up.

    I’m sorry it’s hard. I’m working to change it in some small way. I hope we can get to the tipping point on this where people try to figure out what’s going on before judging.

    May I add a link to this post to my website – http://www.autistikids.com/healthcare-concerns.html?


  2. Kati

    I have had several similar very traumatic experiences related to hospitals due to staff who were either ignorant of my needs, or who flat out disregarded them. I have severe PTSD from these experiences, which is triggered by hospitals, making it even harder for me to cope with. All this has resulted in me avoiding hospitalization at all costs. I am terrified of them. Being abused by staff will do that to you. One day I will type out and share my experiences, but right now it is too difficult. My last trip to the ER was about a year and a half ago. They were quite frequent at one point, for several reasons. The majority of the time, I was mistreated. I briefly considered becoming a nurse, because I felt that bringing compassion to the table in that environment was sorely needed. However, I feared that the emotional strain of the job and environment would be too much for me on a daily basis. I am now in school and planning to become an Art Therapist. I feel that it is a way I can help bring healing to people who have suffered for any reason, and I think my own experience will help me extend my own understanding and compassion to others.

  3. Pingback: List of Current Links & Resources | The Unpuzzled Project

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