Last week, I had a little moment – relating to being autistic – that just utterly made my week, my month … you get the idea. And I wanted to share that on here.
Sometimes it feels like medical professionals just don’t get it and it’s easy to feel pressured into making decisions that we wouldn’t necessarily have made had our needs been understood and had we been given more time to think about it. But then something like this happens and it just… makes me feel hopeful, I guess. That things will get better, that people will become more aware and more understanding.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that I’ve been going to a specialist dental clinic for several years now, having had some pretty traumatic experiences at the dentist before that, before my Autism diagnosis. Since then, going to the dentist has been a lot less scary; I think it will probably always be stressful but it is a lot easier than it used to be (and for that I am very grateful).
I was at my appointment last week and after a gentle and patient check, my dentist ran through the potential next steps. Then she paused and acknowledged that I probably needed some time to think about it, that, while I seemed calm, she didn’t want to make any assumptions about what I was actually feeling and what I would be comfortable with. It surprised me in the moment but fortunately it was an easy choice so we moved on quickly. But then, as I was walking out, I processed what had just happened and I was kind of floored by it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a medical professional say something like that to me before, not in the eight years since I was diagnosed as autistic: I probably needed some time to think about it, that, while I seemed calm, she didn’t wanted to make any assumptions about what I was actually feeling and what I would be comfortable with. (I’ve talked about masking and needing time and feeling pressured with therapists but I don’t really put them in the same box as every other kind of medical professional: GPs, consultants (some who work with autistic people and therefore really should know better and some who don’t but should still know better), mental health professionals, dentists, etc.) If I had a pound for every time someone just assumed I was fine because I look fine – even knowing that I’m autistic, even knowing about masking – I would be unbelievably rich. So, having that acknowledged and considered and validated… I don’t even know how to describe how great that feels.
While having this all the time would be amazing, I’m really grateful to have it in a medical space, the kind of space that can be so stressful and pressured. Generally I’m not afraid to tell people that I’m struggling but masking or that I need time to think about things but after so many traumatic experiences in medical settings, I find it very hard; the pressure feels more suffocating and I feel so close to panicking. It would be great to have more people like my dentist with her approach in healthcare but, in this moment at least, I’m just deeply grateful that I have one safe space when it comes to managing my health.
I’ve been thinking about this experience a lot since it happened and while I remain incredibly grateful to have this dentist taking care of me, I just can’t help wondering what it would be like if there were more people like her, not only in medical spaces but in society in general. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I’m pretty loud and proud about being autistic (even if I don’t always feel proud – I just can’t bear the thought of being even a small part of the reasons why someone might feel bad or scared or ashamed of being autistic) but I don’t always feel safe doing that. And that applies to everything from physical safety to work opportunities to potential friendships. I’m painfully aware that I could be jeopardising those things when I make it clear that I’m autistic (not that it will stop me – after all, it’s going to come up sooner or later). I just can’t help imagining what it would be like to be and talk about my whole self and feel safe doing that.