Unseen Health Risks of Aspergers and Autism
In general, Aspergers and Autism do not cause higher risk for health problems. Spectrum disorders are mainly cognitive in nature and do not lead directly to issues such as heart disease, cancer, or things like that. However, I believe that people with Spectrum disorders can suffer from health problems that would be routine for neurotypical individuals. It all comes down to prevention.
Most NTs will not be able to understand this, but nevertheless it is true – going to the doctor can be an overwhelmingly social experience. Think of all the social interaction that occurs during a doctor visit:
– the receptionist greets you
– you are required to provide your name, info, health insurance, medical history, etc.
– the nurse/PA greet you and asks you to describe your condition as s/he enters your personal space to pre-examines you
– the doctor greets you and asks you to describe your condition (again), asking more probative questions as s/he enters your personal space to examine you
– the receptionist handles your billing on the way out
All of this may seem simple to an NT… and yes, it is. But to an Aspie, I can tell you that this is a LOT of work. It’s enough of a hassle to want to avoid the whole thing altogether.
Imagine being an Aspie for a moment, and it is absolute torture to even have to talk to people that you don’t know. Now you are talking to 3 people, revealing intimate details about yourself to them, you are being touched all over. It’s a pain. You HATE it. So you find yourself skipping your yearly physical. You have a little bit of pain in your chest? Shake it off. It’s easier to deal with the pain than to go through that ordeal again. Next thing you know, you haven’t been to the doctor in 10 years and the pain in your chest cannot be ignored. So you FINALLY get yourself checked out, only it’s too late. Now you need heart bypass surgery.
It’s like that. Aspergers didn’t cause the heart disease, but it caused actions that led to the heart disease.
I’ve been thinking about my elbow lately. I have tendonitis in my elbow from repetitive movement at my job. I’ve had it looked at and gotten prescriptions for physical therapy. I really feel like the PT could be helpful in relieving some of the pain, but I stopped going after four visits. Why? Because the physical therapy involves me doing exercises for my elbow for an hour while a physical therapist watches. An hour of me sitting with this guy. After 10 minutes, I have nothing to say. I feel stupid talking, but the silence is even more uncomfortable. So I don’t go anymore. The treatment is more painful mentally than the condition is physically.
I also think back to the post I made about going to the dentist. I’m lucky that I have strong teeth and gums and my gap in seeing the dentist was only about 2 or 3 years. There could be Spectrumites out there who haven’t been to their dentist or doctor in over a decade.
How many of us out there have been skipping cancer screenings because of the sensory issues associated with needles and drawing blood?
How many of us have not had a regular eye exam because of a sensitivity to light?
How many of us are suffering from conditions that can be easily remedied or prevented by easier access to health care?