What if your doctor had autism? Would that be so hard to believe? I guess if your view of autism is seeing helpless children and adults who can’t speak and can’t care for themselves in any way, then it probably would be.
The truth is that such a view of autism describes a limited number of people on the entire autism spectrum. The autism spectrum consists of three components: classical autism, Asperger syndrome, and PDD-NOS. The great majority of the people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are very much able take care of themselves and to be great contributors to society in many professional ways.
Yes, I am a doctor. And yes, I have autism, PDD-NOS to be exact.
As far as my education goes, I went all through school, including graduate school, without much ado. In my health science classes, I was always above the curve, usually at the top of my class. But despite being so book smart, I was always far behind my peers socially and in the workplace. I, like most people with autism that I know, have a special gift to give, yet we don’t “fit in” with the “normal” world around us. Reading body language, learning proper conduct, knowing what to say and to whom, are all challenges that plague us throughout our years. We eventually learn to fit in to some degree by learning social rules. We also eventually learn how to do our jobs the same way—by coming up with our own set of instructions and steps to follow. It is all so challenging indeed.
While there are people with ASDs who become great scientists, engineers, and computer programmers, those who choose professions where direct and often personal contact with people is required, such as doctors, do so for a very humanitarian reason. They are not doing what they do just because it was a good choice of profession. They are true healers. They knew from a time early on, perhaps due to having had their own health concerns and difficulties, that they could make a difference for other people. As for me personally, I had many health challenges throughout my life, even to this day. That is why I consider myself to be more empathetic than most doctors. In addition, because people with autism tend to be more aware of subtleties and details, I found over the years that I tend to pick up on clues and signs of a person’s condition that others have missed.
So, what is actually going through my autistic mind as I am caring for a patient?
Do not be surprised if it sometimes seems that I am “zoning out." This is actually how I go through the problem solving routine in my brain. I am searching through the “hard drive” in my brain, much like Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned autistic scientist, does when she is trying to solve a problem. I have to think in pictures, to visualize what is going on in the body or in the mind, as the case may be, in order to derive the correct treatment, procedure, or piece of advice to give. These moments of silence are not to be mistaken for cluelessness. It is just how many autistic minds work. Because of the way I think and reason, the answers and advice I come up with may be very different from what another doctor may have told you.
People with autism may be great contributors to society. It’s just that they are challenged with having to think and do things in alternative ways. The world around them needs to be patient. Yet, at the same time, the autistic person does need to learn how to interact appropriately!
Having an ASD does not doom most people who have them. The stereotypes of autism being a taboo subject, a curse, or a life sentence need to be thrown out. The autistic child who disrupts the normal schedule of a classroom is not to be disciplined but is instead to be encouraged to think and do what he can in the ways that he can. Many thoughts and feelings about people with autism are actually shadows of Dark Age paradigms. This is not a medical condition that can be cured, and people with autism need not be institutionalized, shunned by society, or, worst of all, be made a pin cushion of by the medical establishment.
It is unfortunate that there are those who may always be in the non-functioning, disabled group. Yes, those in the world of health care and services for those with special needs must indeed come up with some sort of plan for these individuals to be cared for throughout life. But one unfortunate trend I see is when certain care providers and “specialists” tout a particular “cure” based on a theoretical cause, such as gluten-free diets, chelation therapy, or even the baseless hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and claim that since one child may have been helped that a cure exists for everyone. It is unbelievable, and quite sad, when I hear from parents who say they were misled to throw thousands of dollars away in therapies that they thought would help their child, all to no avail. We really don't know what causes autism. Therefore, it can be neither prevented nor cured.
To find out more about how I can help your loved one with their autism spectrum Disorder, or to find out more about my autism seminar, please see drpatsuglia.com/autism.html.