One day while working at a summer basketball camp, a coach brings you a young middle school boy who is crying. As the Athletic Trainer (AT) for that camp, you begin to ask some general questions to find out what happened to this young boy. Some of these questions would include: what happened to you? How did it happen? Have you ever been hurt before? This young camper becomes very emotional, crying, aggravated, and ends up running outside. As a healthcare provider, what would you do?
- Tell the coach/counselor to bring him back inside?
- Call the parents?
- Find the young boy and talk to him?
After asking the counselor about the mechanism of injury, you find out that the young boy reached to intercept a cross-court pass and the ball hit his hand at a high rate of speed. The counselor also tells you that this young boy is autistic, which may have been the cause for his reactions to the injury examination.
The CDC recently released new data stating that 1 in 68 children have been identified as having some kind of autism spectrum disorder¹ (ASD). Many of these children are high functioning and can be an active participant in the classroom as well as on the field. The presentation, behaviors and mannerisms of autism are also becoming better well-known as more famous and successful citizens are announcing that they, too, have autism or another ASD. From Clay Marzo and Jim Eisenreich, to Dan Aykroyd and Mozart, we are finding that autism is not a disorder that disables, but rather can empower a person to become the next big movie, music, literary or sports star. So what does this mean for ATs?
Just like a smart phone, computer or new tech gadget, we as healthcare providers need to update our software to adapt to the changes and discoveries that are happening in our profession on a daily and yearly basis. Autistic and ASD patients (ADD/ADHD/Asperger’s, etc.) are highly intelligent and functioning individuals who have the same processing organs of all human beings; their internal hardware is just wired differently. As ATs, we need to be aware that our approach to treating, evaluating and communicating injury information or rehabilitation will need to be slightly altered in order for these patients to comprehend and process what is being conveyed to them.
For patients with ADD/ADHD, it may be best to place them in a quiet, private space away from high patient traffic to eliminate distractions. Some patients on the autism spectrum may get anxious or cannot focus when in loud environments, around large groups of people or being asked questions with complicated medical terms that they might not be able to understand. We must adapt, use a different application or switch modes to be able to communicate and meet the needs of these patients.
Going back to the story at the beginning of this blog, now knowing this young camper has some kind of autistic history, how would you address or change your interactions with him moving forward? How would you adapt to make the patient comfortable, less anxious and provide an environment outside of the basketball court where he can thrive and be a successful individual? Check your internal athletic training software, and see if it could use some updating or refreshing.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. There is hope through research and in increasing awareness.