Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Doctors Who, "Don't Do Autism"

Dear Dr. X,

I know you are out there Dr. X and have met many doctors like yourself. It's a real shame you are out there because families trust you for their health. Why then is autism something you are so resistant to learn?

While other doctors are learning about autism and the signs and learning about the statistics that about 1 in 100 births now will be on the spectrum you go about your day stating, "I have 500 patients and have never seen autism." When asked what it looks like you stumble about and say, "Well, like Rain Man?"

While other doctors are administering the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) you state you have never heard of it. Why Dr. X? Early intervention is vital for maximum growth and mainstreaming for those on the spectrum and yet you won't inform parents about this simple test.

In the Saint Louis area many doctors are receptive to letting us come in and give out information about autism, TouchPoint, and my personal stories and experiences. Yet you, Dr. X, state that, "We're too busy to deal with autism." You're what Dr. X!? The CDC has declared autism a "National Health Crisis" and yet you are too busy to deal with it? Please Dr. X could you explain this to me? Parents depend on you, they listen to you, and they trust you. To say you are too busy to handle a health crisis is something I just don't understand.

Dr. X, while some doctors are learning ways to communicate with those on the spectrum and learning about what options families have for therapies and autism centers to go to you have stated that, "We don't do autism." Don't do autism? I'm sorry, Dr. X, but I just don't understand this. This would be like a firefighter saying they only fight fires on the 1st floor and if it's on the 2nd floor, well, they just don't do that. This would be like a veterinarian saying they treat all pets except they don't do Pugs. I understand you aren't a specialist in autism and is it this fact that you are scared of Dr. X? So many doctors I have visited admit that they don't fully understand autism, but they want to know where they can send a family. I mean, if something is neurologically wrong you send them to a neurologist, so why then do you refuse to "do" autism?

It saddens me, Dr. X, that I've heard you tell parents, "Don't worry about autism, they'll outgrow it." and, "Your child might just be a late bloomer, let's reassess for autism three years for now." You may not know it Dr. X but there is hope out there and there are places to turn. I know autism is something you can't take a quick test and see. I mean, a thermometer doesn't work and you can't order a blood test. For the most part, Dr. X, I don't think you are intentionally trying to hinder these families but you simply don't know about autism and the sheer fact that you can't visibly see it and you can't order a test confuses you. That's okay, autism is new, but staying in the dark about, well, that's not okay. The families of Missouri, the country, and the world, depending on where you are Dr. X, depend on you for the well-being of their children. You don't have to become the world's leading expert on autism, but to "not do autism" is to do a gigantic disservice to your patients.

So Dr. X, you aren't a single doctor. You are a collection of all the doctors out there that don't do autism or says it isn't a big deal. If you fall into Dr. X category it is simple to get out of it and it is RIGHT to get out of it and I implore you to get out of it. To keep wishing autism is going to simply disappear is like hoping that the sun won't come up the next day. Autism is here, the numbers are going up, and staying in the dark isn't a crime, but it should be. You are the front line and by seeing autism early you can give the family real hope. Don't offer false hope though by saying they'll outgrow in their teenage years!

To end, Dr. X, I just want to say one more time I hope you will listen. I hope you will open your eyes. Autism is here and I'm sure you can go on being Dr. X and think you have never seen autism and never will, or you can do a little research, give the M-CHAT, and provide a path that will give the families hope. It's your choice Dr. X.

Aaron Likens


  1. Many people do not like change. It's a fact. Even though doctors should be helping and healing people, by not accepting change (or differences from the "norm"), they are hurting those in need. Sad but true; this is the world we live in.

  2. My Childrens doctor never once mentioned it to the possiblity that Autism may be a factor with my children. Now I am having a terrible time getting them diagnosed because I have worked so hard to get them the help they need and they say they don't meet the criteria. And then I take them somewhere else and they say it is Autism. I wish more doctors would accept the fact that there are children out there and they can be diagnosed when they are younger, which would help with early intervention.

  3. This is where the professional in me has to say something.

    In my line of work, people specialize in different settings- hands, acute care, geriatrics, pediatrics, etc. Sure, we all have a general skill set that allow us to practice in different settings. HOWEVER, somebody who work in mental health for a couple decades may not be a very good person to consult for hand and upper extremity injuries, for example. Sure, I take my fair share of continuing educational classes too to maintain my license. But for the most part they are in areas I want to specialize in/improve on (most likely the earlier). Doctors maybe is a similar crowd, too.

    Therefore, until you get to see their world (as in not just talking to them at their offices... but actually to go through the same education that they do), then you will realize you have to pick your spots on professionals very carefully.

  4. Perhaps Bill, but I wrote this post and it was directed at one doctor. We had just done a lunch and learn and this doctor, whom I named X, was 100% uninvolved. We tried everything and he was more enthralled with the new sleeve of golf balls he got. Honestly, as he said, "Nope, I've never seen autism" he was closelyt inspecting a new Titlest Pro V1. I believe most doctors are good, but this singular one that motivated this blog, well, he deserved to be called out.

  5. I don't know if you can pick odd behaviour in others Aaron...but the golf ball fixation during a serious conversation...really? Sounds like spectrum to me :)