Last year I wrote how raising awareness and understanding about the autism spectrum became my passion. With each presentation and blog post my passion continues to get bigger. There was an event last month though that made the need real to me. I have talked in the past about stories of doctors or other professionals who don’t know anything about the spectrum nor were they willing to learn but had never met one of these types until last month and I realized what the enemy is.
Who or what is the enemy? I met this entity while doing a lunch and learn with Matt. I look forward to each and every one of these because I feel it is such important work. So far in these lunches doctors are truly interested in TouchPoint and learning about my experiences on the autism spectrum. The feeling of accomplishment I feel from these can’t be put into words, but I will put into words what it is like to meet the enemy as one this day last month I finally met one of those doctors I have written about.
Who is “one of those doctors”? Many times since the beginning of my blog I have written about the horror stories I have heard be it a doctor telling a family to wait a couple years and reassessing then to see if it is autism, or the doctor who threw a ball at the child and if the child could catch it then, well, it couldn’t possibly be autism.
We waited in this doctor’s office for quite some time and finally the doctor came in. The conversation was brisk as the doctor obviously wanted to be elsewhere. He was holding a new sleeve of Strata golf balls and a new tool, perhaps the tool that one uses to repair green damage, but while Matt was talking the doctor was reading the fine print on the package of golf balls. When pressed on if he knew what the MCHAT is the doctor looked at Matt and said, plainly I might add, “no.”
Once Matt showed him an example of one and the questions that are on it the doctor once again slipped back into golf mode. I found this odd as the temperature was 38 degrees and the skies were about as gloomy as they could be; I guess this was fitting for the mood in this doctor’s office.
Matt then asked, “If you suspect autism what do you do?” and the doctor stated that he refers them to place X (I am not in the business of naming places or names in events like this as it is not productive. Even if you find me and press me for names I will not give it as I don’t think it would be proper) and Matt responded respectfully, “That place doesn’t do autism”. Matt immediately followed up with, “After that what would you do?”
The following answers will live with me forever. The doctor who showed no emotion except fondness for his new golf balls said, “Well then I will refer them to a developmental pediatrician.” That sounds great, right? Matt then asked the distracted doctor, “Who?” and the doctor’s response? He stated, “I tell them to look at a phonebook for a name.”
The phonebook!? It was clear to me now that this doctor would not recognize autism if it were right in front of him. The signs would be lost and furthermore he, if he could figure it out, would not know what to do if he did.
This enemy is a dangerous thing. I never realized it existed and what I mean by that is that it is sort of thing that I have heard, but people truly can’t be that ignorant, right? Yet here I was in this doctor’s office witnessing it firsthand.
Ignorance of the autism spectrum by a person, say, a stranger on the street isn’t all that dangerous of a thing. What is dangerous is the fact that there are doctors, people who have made it a career to make people better and to point people in the right direction when they don’t know what to do, that don’t know a thing about autism. The latest statistics, and I know I am probably preaching to the choir here, is that about 1 in 100 births are going to be on the autism spectrum. That is more prevalent than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined! With that being so, and I have said it so many times, there is NO EXCUSE for doctors to be blind the growing number. In 1997 the numbers were about 1 in 500 so the rate of growth is staggering. But this raises the question, how high will the numbers get? We are about 1% of the population, but maybe in 10 years it will be at 1.5% or maybe 2%. Will doctors still be blind then? With so much hope out there, so long as families are made aware of it, can society afford to continue to have doctors oblivious to the growing numbers of autism?
I said with each day my passion grows and I have relived that experience in that office each day since. Most of the time doctors are highly receptive to information about autism, but on that day the enemy was made real. I saw it, I felt it, and it saddened me. Today is World Autism Awareness Day and I hope someday we can conquer this enemy. This enemy isn’t that doctor though but a plague that is out there. There isn’t one person that is the enemy as the enemy is ignorance. This month and this day may be the one time of year that autism awareness is in the forefront, but for me each day is a battle against this enemy as there is hope, but so long as professionals don’t fall prey to the enemy.