The appointment had started well enough. There I was, sat opposite the GP, explaining how my eldest had recently received an autism diagnosis and the assessment process had led me to realise that I, too, was very likely autistic and had therefore been assessed by the same privately funded centre (and this was all extraneous detail because I’m fairly sure I was there for a completely unrelated minor medical complaint) when it started: the head tilt, the subtle raising of eyebrows. The unbroken eye contact. I could tell what was coming.
Let’s play Bingo! (Or Lotto! if you were in my French lessons.)
“Who ‘diagnosed’ you then?”
She made no attempt to conceal the disbelief in her voice or her expression, which I initially thought might be a weird spot-check to test whether I could read body language. I tell her it was the private assessment clinic that saw my son and her eyebrows raised further.
“I haven’t heard of them, was it a counsellor or someone like that who told you? Did you do the proper … tests and things?”
It was the ‘and things’ that made me realise what was going on. The usual GP-patient dynamic had been disrupted and I was now the expert in this interaction: I knew a lot more about autism than she did, by virtue of my own lived experience and a significant amount of research, and she was probably trying to redress the imbalance by asserting her authority as an expert in her domain.
Unfortunately for my GP, with knowledge comes confidence, so I explained that, actually, the clinic who diagnosed me hold the contract for NHS assessments in our local area and use the ‘gold standard’ diagnostic and assessment tools, and that my scores were all documented in a 70-page report that I could provide if necessary.
She said it wasn’t necessary.
”You must be very high-functioning.”
I had started, so I thought I may as well carry on, and earnestly explained that labelling autistic people on the basis of their ability to live in a neurotypical way is not helpful and denies the variability in ability to cope whilst dismissing the challenges involved in being compelled to do so.
At this point, she attempted what I think was meant as a conciliatory comment but, unfortunately for her, this too backfired, as she said brightly:
”Well we’re all on the spectrum somewhere, aren’t we.”
In retrospect, I don’t think this was meant as a question, but I cannot leave inaccuracies uncorrected and was on a roll, so I told her that the ‘spectrum’ was not linear; this is another unhelpful misconception and we are not ‘all on it’.
I left her with a cheerful offer of coming back to the surgery to provide further information and education for all of their employees, but haven’t heard back yet …