As both a doctor and an Aspie, I made the bold claim in yesterday’s post that being an Aspie actually makes me a better doctor (than I might otherwise be if I were allistic/non-autistic). Writing that post got me thinking about the various advantages not just to me, but to my patients (and thus the patients of other doctors on the spectrum) of having a doctor on the spectrum.
Is your doctor also an Aspie? You might not be able to tell right away. He or she may not display any outward signs. They might appear a little “off” or “odd” (no offense intended), or maybe slightly “eccentric”, but otherwise their spectrum membership may not be obvious.
This post will outline two topics: 1) why having an Aspie doctor is a good thing, and 2) how to spot a possible doctor-on-the-spectrum.
Why You Want An Aspie/Spectrum Person for a Doctor: (although I use the word “they”, I’m included in this list, as an Aspie doctor myself)
- Many Aspie doctors will explain everything. This works best in more of a specialist or niche setting than it does conventional medicine, the latter of which is characterized by hurried, brief visits. Since they live, eat, and breathe the medical field, they might have a tough time translating their knowledge to plain lay-public terms, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try. They’ll be very thorough, and when it comes to your questions, lab tests, examinations, potential causes of health issues, or possible treatments/remedies, they’ll typically be thinking of every applicable possibility. To them, every detail is important, so when they’ve gathered all of the information and they begin to review with you their opinions about what’s wrong and how they’ll address it, they don’t leave anything out or keep anything from you.
- They’ll be fully prepared for your appointment with them. Preparation is a big deal for them, and when you are sitting in front of them, you’re the only person in the world; everything else fades away. They’ll usually prefer to close their office doors to filter out any other possible distraction or stimulus.
- They’ll notice what every other doctor has missed. This applies to possible root causes of symptoms, results of lab tests, side effects of–or interactions between–medications, and/or something every other doctor has dismissed or ignored. Since every detail is important, this means yours won’t get missed.
- They care….often, too much. Even if you can’t tell. And you may not be able to tell, because they may have a tough time showing it. In school, all med students are taught not to get “too close” or too emotionally involved with patients and their situations. This is known as “clinical empathy” or “detached concern” and yes, it is taught in school. Most Aspies don’t lack empathy in the traditional sense, and they’re not cold, uncaring, or unfeeling. They probably don’t think the same way you do, and they likely don’t “get” how non-autistic people think, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel or care. They do, and probably very deeply. They often find themselves in the position of caring more about their patients’ issues and recovery plans than many patients do about their own!
- They’ll believe you, even if no other doctor has before. They’re not just going to write off your symptoms as “depression” or “anxiety” or claim that you’re a hypochondriac. They’re going to take a complete inventory of your symptoms and make every attempt to get to the bottom of them. This means they’ll take you seriously. You’ll actually get listened to. They may not appear to be listening intently, but they are. Their minds can’t help but run ten miles a minute as they process the information rapidly, and then begin the brain energy-consuming task of coming up with a mental flowchart of possibilities and differential diagnoses.
- They’ll also accept you for who you are. Aspies tend to look beyond surface characteristics, such as beauty, weight, gender, etc, and peer deeply into the essence of the person inside. They’re not going to look at you judgmentally, flirt with you, become attracted to you, or otherwise be inappropriate. You can take comfort in knowing that you’re “safe” with them.
- To make it as far as they have in their field, health/medicine is probably one of their Special Interests, or areas of incredibly intense interest. The road to becoming a licensed doctor of any type (MD, DC, or DO) is long and difficult. Not many people in general have the stamina for it. This holds especially true for Aspies; they only have the stamina and willpower to do something that they’re hyper-interested in, and if they’ve graduated med school and are licensed doctors by this point, you can bet that medicine/health or physiology hold their fascination.
- What this means to you: 1) they’ll never stop learning. They’ll voluntarily take more training than is required for license renewal every year. My state requires 16 hours of continuing education per year in order for me to renew my license. I routinely take anywhere from 40 to 100 or more. I even voluntarily travel to, pay for, and attend courses that my state may not recognize as training for my type of license (other states may count it for credit, or it may be counted in my state for other types of doctors but not mine), but it doesn’t even matter: I want the information and if I happen to get credit for the class, great, but that’s not my main motivation for being there. I’m not there to warm a seat like so many others; I’m there to learn.
- What this also means to you: 2) they’ll probably never stop working. They’ll voluntarily work evenings and weekends in an attempt to solve a confusing “case” (i.e. figure out what’s wrong with a patient when the clues are confusing and inconclusive-on-the-surface). They’ll do an immense amount of work behind the scenes, on your behalf. While attending a post-doctoral class or conference, your face and file may pop into their minds during a particular presentation on a particular subject, and they might suddenly realize exactly what the answer to the puzzle is, and it might be all they can do to stop themselves from jumping up with glee and hollering, “eureka!”
- They hold themselves to the highest of integrity, ethics, and competence standards. This isn’t public-relations lip-service. This is for real; they mean it. They do it when no one is watching. They do this much more intensely than you’ll ever know, more than they’ll ever be able to explain.
- They’re honest, sometimes uncomfortably so. They’re not afraid to tell you what you need to hear. The upshot is that 1) someone is finally saying what you need to hear; and 2) you know that what they’re saying is true. Aspies generally don’t lie; they tend to be very literal and lying is an unethical waste of time and energy to them. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They usually despise cheesy sales tactics, so they’re not going to scam you. They tend to earn patients’ trust, even those of patients who have been burned previously by other practitioners, and Aspie doctors deeply honor and value that trust; they’re not going to mess it up.
- They often have disrupted sleep cycles, during which they find themselves awake during the wee hours. They also tend to need less sleep than the average person. They typically use the extra time wisely, usually to engage in a Special Interest, which, for an Aspie doctor, tends to be their field.
- Aspie doctors are often incredibly brilliant, with IQs ranging from high-average to genius levels (usually 135-170+). This means they think differently, and lightening-fast, but that they might not always be able to relate to others. They want to, but often can’t. They’re not content with being mediocre, but world fame, attention, and big fan clubs or followings aren’t as important to them. They genuinely want to be the best in their field, and will often be known as “the best-kept secret” in their region. They genuinely want to be the best because they’re perfectionists by nature, and their unusual intelligence allows for that, almost mandating it. Fortunately, they tend to attract the more intelligent of patients, too! 🙂
- They’ll honestly tell you when a particular situation or issue is not comfortably within the realm of their specialty (another reason why you won’t get “taken”!) and when they refer you to another healthcare practitioner for that issue, you can rest assured that they’ve investigated that practitioner thoroughly and found him or her to measure up to the above-mentioned perfectionist standards.
Other Things You Should Know About Your Aspie/Spectrum Doctor: (How to spot an Aspie doctor, and what to keep in mind about him/her)
- Planning and preparation for appointments with patients take more time for a doctor on the spectrum than for non-spectrum doctors. This is because an Aspie doctor will actually put thought into whom they’re about to see, and actually attempt to competently prepare for that visit. This includes having all the details about that patient loaded into their short-term memory, being organized and having the file ready, and having prepared any information that needs to be covered during that visit. Doctors on the spectrum must carefully plan a “talking points” agenda or what they’re going to say in order to be relatively comfortable with meeting with someone. This means that they won’t be looking at your file for the first time since your last visit as they’re walking down the hall on their way to greet you.
- Since planning and preparation for each visit takes time, an Aspie doctor may not be available for a same-day or last-minute appointment. (This often means that they don’t work in emergency or GP/general practitioner environments; they’re typically specialists or otherwise occupy a niche field (an example of a niche field might be Functional Medicine), in which emergencies and urgent matters typically don’t come up.)
- Doctors in general can be blunt, whether they’re on the spectrum or not; this may apply especially to Aspie doctors. This often gets mistaken for a distant bedside manner or a lack of nurturing, but that’s not exactly the case. They do care; they’re just very direct in their communication. Sometimes, this can be off-putting to someone who is either 1) in a delicate/fragile situation, or 2) is otherwise not expecting it. Do expect it from time to time. They make every attempt to filter and translate what they’re thinking into “non-spectrum mode” before they say it, but sometimes this doesn’t happen as efficiently as the Aspie doctor–or their patients–might prefer. Just remember that they’re not trying to offend you, brush you off, give you the cold shoulder, or otherwise play games. In fact, they don’t do those things, which is a breath of fresh air.
- Their desk may be messy; this is because they’re usually working on a lot of different projects at once, but often lack direction without a daily to-do list. It’s also possible that they’re having to make abrupt changes to a previously planned schedule, and because of their incredible abilities to focus on a task or person like a laser-beam, it can be difficult to shift gears quickly.
- Their clothing will almost always be comfortable, and they may rotate between a few outfits, or have an outfit for each day of the week. They may not adhere to the latest fashions; their clothing may either consist of timeless classics or be slightly outdated. Regardless, comfort is a much higher priority for an Aspie doctor than being fashion-current.
- Small talk before getting started may be either brief, slightly awkward, slightly repetitive (i.e. they may almost always bring up the weather or compliment you on something you’re wearing), and/or may sound slightly rehearsed. It’s not you. There’s nothing actually wrong with them, either. It’s just how they operate; small talk doesn’t come naturally to them, so they had to learn it consciously, usually by watching other people or even movies.
- They may talk fast. This is for three reasons. First, their minds move at warp speed, and although they have incredible long-term memories, their short-term memories may not be as efficient, so they try to express or share those thoughts before they slip away. Second, social anxiety is often a Big Thing for Aspies/spectrum people, and this holds true for doctors on the spectrum as well. This means that although they like you–and they do!–meeting with another person in general can cause anxiety. When people are anxious, they talk faster. And last, Aspies, of all doctors do respect your time. They know they have a lot of information to share with you or questions to ask you, they want to be thorough and do an excellent job on every visit, and thus they know you’re going to spend more time in their office than you might in other doctors’ visits. Since they know you have a busy schedule and a finite budget, they may subconsciously be trying to shave time where possible out of respect for you.
- Although they may talk fast, or sometimes slightly awkward (perhaps a bit too loud or soft), or they may occasionally search for the right words to use, they often write incredibly well. Their attention to detail is unparalleled, and if they do find mistakes in their writing, they’ll edit it as many times as necessary, making all the needed corrections. If they send you an email, they will likely have proofread it carefully if they weren’t crunched for time, and if they were, they’ll review their sent email and perhaps follow up on any mistakes, omissions, or any verbiage that may not have been clear before.
- They may break eye contact when talking. People on the spectrum usually find eye contact awkward and distressing in general; it doesn’t come naturally to them, and it certainly doesn’t feel natural to them. They may have trained themselves to make eye contact, and an Aspie doctor will usually do so at least part of the time, typically when they’re listening to you. They may have even (mostly) mastered the skill of doing so when they’re the ones talking, but it does tend to interfere with their concentration (which is deep and intense), so you may find them looking away at times, especially when searching for the right word, phrase, explanation, or analogy. This doesn’t mean they’re being dishonest or antisocial; it doesn’t mean they’re hiding anything. (Remember the parts about their adherence to honesty and their literal, direct communication.)
- The social anxiety may also manifest in another way: doctors on the spectrum might have their staff return phone calls, emails, or other messages. This is not against you. This doesn’t mean they’re avoiding you. This doesn’t mean they’re irresponsible. It doesn’t mean they’re weak or a scaredy-cat. It simply means that they instinctively know that (for many reasons, covered at length elsewhere on this blog and those of other Aspies) contact with people is better suited to their staff than to themselves. Please don’t take it personally, and please don’t hold it against them. It is what it is; your Aspie doctor has at least as many–if not more–(unique and important!) strengths as they have non-strengths. When you’re entrusting your health to–and benefiting from–a potential genius, who cares if your call is returned by their assistant instead?
- Another effect of the short-term memory issue may be that doctors on the spectrum might sometimes repeat themselves. This may happen more often during times of stress, such as during a long or particularly important visit, or perhaps a different and completely unrelated situation. Of course, repeating themselves may not be a symptom of faulty short-term memory; instead, it may be that they’re trying to (again, do an excellent job) and emphasize an important point that their experience has taught them needs to be repeated a few times in order to be remembered by patients.
- Since doctors on the spectrum will be straight-up with you, you can take them and what they say at face value. This removes a lot of possible confusion and misunderstanding. However, guess what? They’re going to expect the same from you (!) They expect that you mean it when you say you understand what they’ve said, and that if you have questions about it, you’ll ask. They expect that you’ll follow through on your commitments, agreements, and care plans, as well as any contract-type paperwork you’ve signed regarding office policies/procedures (such as a cancellation policy, financial/payment policies, etc). They rightfully interpret your signature on those forms or your verbal agreement to your commitment to care to be exactly what it should be: the truth. And yes, they will hold you to it. They have no way of knowing when someone is wavering or somehow wishy-washy unless that person speaks up; if a patient agrees to something, the spectrum doctor will proceed with that knowledge at face value. This bullet-point is a particularly important aspect to keep in mind. If you have questions or reservations about something, ask. If not, and you agree to it, they’re going to understandably expect that you’ll make good on it.
There are probably more doctors on the spectrum than anyone realizes. Some of these doctors may not have realized their Aspie-ness/autism themselves! And their place on the spectrum obviously makes them exceptionally well-suited for their career field. Their intentions are genuine, their honesty and ethics are intact, their intelligence and motivation are high, and their caring runs almost-too-deep. Wouldn’t it be pleasantly interesting if every doctor was an Aspie? 🙂