How Therapists Should Treat Patients with Autism and Asberger’s Syndrome
Leanne, our Bristol Manager and Physiotherapist attended a talk organised by the BASS Autism Services for Adults team in Bristol recently. The team work passionately to enable people with Autism and Asberger’s to live fulfilling lives, by making sure they understand their diagnosis, how to manage it and by educating health professionals that may come into contact with these people.
More Common Than We Think
Asberger’s and Autism are both diagnoses on a spectrum of conditions that affect communication, social interaction, interests and behaviour. Labelled under the diagnosis on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is estimated that 1 in every 100 people in the UK might have an ASD related disorder. This makes it more common than widely thought. ASD is not a mental health condition, it does not mean the person has a lower than average IQ or cannot function within normal society. In actual fact, people with ASD often have extremely high IQs and can be very good at subjects such as maths and science, which require careful ordered thought and persistence.
Patients with ASD may have problems understanding or being aware of other people’s emotions or communication styles. They might for example, really struggle with the concept of sarcasm and take what people say to them very literally. This is not always appreciated or understood by others and can cause distress and upset when people react negatively. They might also have restrictive and repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour and need quite set routines to feel happy and safe. If these routines are disrupted it can cause distress and anxiety, even if the changes are for their best interests. For example changing an appointment time late in the day, or running late with appointments can cause a patient with ASD to worry and become very anxious.
Managing the Conditions
There is no cure for ASD but people such as the BASS team can offer learning and education for people who come into contact often. They can also offer great support for patients diagnosed with the condition and methods of managing their symptoms. This can carry over into day-to-day activities but also medical appointments and the management of other non-related conditions.
Every therapist can look back and remember one patient that got a little upset at a late appointment time, or was easily distracted by finer detail in the room and struggled to hold on to the conversation at hand. Knowing what to look out for, and how to best optimise treatment for this patient population can maximise the outcome from sessions and ensure that we are treating all our patients to the best of our abilities. Ensuring that you minimise distractions in the room to allow focus on your conversation, keeping to appointment times, clear and specific explanation of quantities and amounts of exercises when prescribed, and not using too many open ended questions can help to achieve good outcomes.