Most people with autism will have to visit hospitals at one time or another just like anyone else. This is not about having to stay over night, but just about visiting for a few hours, be that due to going to A & E, or an out-patient appointment, or for the main part visiting someone else. The emotional impact can of course be huge, but mainly I want to use this blog to talk about the hospital itself, and why just being there can be overwhelming, and stress-inducing for autistic people.
(1) Noise: Let`s get this one out of the way first. Hospitals are noisy places. They are full of people banging about, moving trolleys, shouting to each orther, crying, all talking at once and just generally making a racket. Most of this noise can’t be helped, but that does not make it any easier to deal with. Right from walking in the doors it is noisy, even if not especially on the wards. If you`re visiting someone then what time is it? Well visiting time, which means everyone else in crammed in to that room or ward at the same time as you. Young kids screams to adults who can’t seem to stay of their phones. There is a bit of everything in hospital wards.
(2) Emotions: This one might be a bit harder to explain, but let me try. When I walk in to a hospital I can almost sense the emotions all around me. The staff have heightened levels of stress, there is grief and fear everywhere. Of course there are good emotions too, but they all blend it to one. It`s like walking up a mountain; you start off at the foot – AKA the car park – where things are normal, and the higher up you get the lighter the air. The harder it gets to breath. Only the farther you go in to the bowels of the hospital the more the air is tinged with strong emotions and feelings. It clogs up the atmosphere and makes it heavy and oppressing. For someone who finds emotions hard at the best of times it can be like walking out under the boiling sun. Yes I can do it, but being in such a harsh atmosphere takes a huge toll on me mentally, and physically.
(3) Smells: We all know this and everyone says it – hospitals smell funny. Of course they do if you think about it, they are full of people being sick, going to the toilet where they are not meant to, bleeding, and well, dying. They have to do something to cover up those smells so they seem to just blanket the whole place in cleaning fluid. I don’t blame them, but as you all know that hardly smells nice! For people with sensory issues though it can smell far worse.
(4) Change: I wanted mainly to look at how things are inside the hospital, but of course visiting a person in hospital is going to mean a change of routine for most autisitc people. But even when you get used to someone being in hospital there is still a lot of change – you might go and visit only to find someone has been moved to a different room or ward. This might happen more than once, meaning you can’t really get to grips with where you are in the building even if you go each day.
(5) Autism is not the main issue: What I mean by this is that when you go to a hospital to visit someone, or because you need to go in to A&E, your autism is not going to be the first thing on peoples` minds. If you are visiting then the staff working there might not even know you are autistic, and your family might have a lot on their minds, and not be able to notice if you are becoming overloaded. You might go yourself and plan to not stay long, but get caught up in something going on and have to stay a lot longer. And the time you are there your autism is not going to be the first thing that other people are thinking about. You might not be getting the help and support you need as there are others there who are, rightly so, the focus.
These are five reasons why I think hospitals can be overwhelming, and difficult places to visit if you are autistic. That’s not even getting in to how hard it can be to have to stay in hospitals for any length of time. I for one take days to recover just from going to visit someone once. This can make it very hard to have a sick relative. I find myself torn between wanting to go and visit, and knowing the impact it will have for days. And not just on me, but on those around me affected by my mood and the way I act, for example my increase in meltdowns.
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