Health Care Disparities Affecting Individuals with Autism

Contributed by AAoM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

The health care system can be intimidating and confusing to navigate. However, for autistic individuals facing disparities when it comes to accessing quality health care, the problem is compounded.

A recent study by researchers at Cambridge University showed that “​​Autistic adults reported lower quality healthcare than non-autistic”…“including poorer access to healthcare and poorer communication, alongside increased anxiety, sensory sensitivity, system-level problems, shutdowns, and meltdowns.”

When a patient is met with an unpleasant or ableist experience from a health care provider this often causes people to delay seeking the care that they need. Some medical professionals have suggested, “trying to get more disability content into our medical school curriculum, making sure that our students are learning how to take care of disabled patients.” While that is a step in the right direction it is clear that these issues are systemic and will require many solutions.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there, “Black, Hispanic/Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander autistic people in the United States have higher odds of having co-occurring health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or hypertension, compared with white autistic people.”

These racial disparities are caused by multiple factors and also affect the general population and the healthcare industry as a whole. Researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA have stated,

“To ease racial and ethnic disparities, public health interventions, such as Medicaid expansion, should use targeted outreach efforts and provide more healthcare services in autistic people’s homes or communities.”

There are many problems with no one clear solution. It is imperative that patients stand up for themselves but even more imperative that medical providers listen to their patients and treat each patient with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Patients can assess their doctors by using sites like Yelp or Vitals or even reading Google Reviews. If you have been the recipient of unethical health care practices you can file a complaint with the Bureau of Community and Health Systems (BCHS).

Contact the Michigan Alliance for Families or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) for more health and wellness resources. Individuals can also seek mental health support through Psychology Today, Find a Therapist. As always, the Autism Alliance of Michigan is here to support you and help you navigate.