Nursing and Autism

For all Nurses who subscribe to the Nursing Times I have a comment on Nursing and Autism published. See the link

Nursing autistic patients has its unique challenges and all nurses need to be autism aware,

There are a few key points that nurses working with autism would like every nurse to know about their autistic patients.

Please so not make presumptions as everyone with autism is different. Find out about how a person’s autism affects them as soon as you can in a consultation as this can stop any problems later. Ask them and ask relatives. They may have problems with being touched and this may cause problems when carrying out even simple procedures such as measuring blood pressure.

Learning about your patient’s coping strategies. Some people may have coping strategies that they use in stressful situations which they made need if they are in hospital.

Communicate in ways your patient understands and knows best. Verbal conversation may be best as some body language may be difficult to read. Some people don’t make eye contact because they cannot cope with taking both verbal and visual information at the same time. Writing information down can also help.

You need to use clear unambiguous language with no confusing terminology and it is important to only give the information needed. Give time for people to process the information given to them and please avoid waffle. Be patient and wait for a response.

Your patient will be outside of the certainty and security of their routine. Use structure rather than open ended arrangements to avoid uncertainty. For example don’t use vague terms such as soon, perhaps or maybe etc. Be as precise as you can be.A consistent approach is always best, seeing the same professional and going to the same place in the hospital or clinic.

Try to minimise any unnecessary noise, such as equipment which buzzes or bleeps. Make sure the environment is not disruptive, avoiding sensory overload. Remember all senses including smell or touch can be affected. If you have some time to look at whether the room/place/ward is friendly you could use tools such as the Checklist for Autism Friendly Environments.

Always ensure your patient knows that if they are getting stressed they can escape to an identified area. For example, a quieter less busy area. You may identify a waiting room that’s not used much perhaps.

Nurses are often not shy and retiring so please do not be hesitant to ask the autistic patient what they need. They will appreciate a direct no nonsense approach that is clear what is going on. Many acute healthcare settings now have Learning Disability Liaison nurses who often can give advice about autism. These roles are essential if we are to effectively meet the health needs of people with autism.

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