Health inequalities and barriers to accessing all forms of healthcare is something that, as an autistic adult, I am all too familiar with. Any appointment with a GP, Nurse, Physiotherapist, Dentist etc. causes me a huge increase in anxiety as I know that it will never be a simple appointment, I will always have to explain the same things over and over and my needs will not be understood.
I recently had a dentist appointment and wanted to share my experience in the hope that it will highlight where work still needs to done in terms of access. This was my experience.
I have to get the bus to my dentist because it is too far away for me to walk and the times of the buses don’t match up well with appointment times so I arrived 10 minutes early. I was greeted by the receptionist who abruptly said they were closed (in the middle of the day) and to go for a walk.
I came back 10 minutes later at the time of my appointment and was this time allowed into the waiting room. I was then asked to fill out forms as I hadn’t done them online before the appointment, I explained that I had filled out all of the forms online and the response was ‘Well, we haven’t received them.’ The receptionist then took the forms into the dentist and told them ‘She hadn’t filled them in.’ I again had to explain that I had filled them in.
I was then forced to wait in the waiting room where I could hear all the traffic from the main road outside, see how bright the lighting was and hear the receptionist as she shredded a lot of paperwork (the reception desk is in the waiting room). My appointment was also late by this time as well which only caused me more anxiety.
When my appointment finally started the dentist did explain clearly what was going to happen. However, he forced me to explain about sensory issues I have with brushing my teeth that I have explained in every appointment. As with every appointment before, he clearly didn’t know what to do about this and suggested something I have already tried and made no difference. However, I wasn’t given the opportunity to explain this leaving me feeling dismissed, yet again. The appointment ended abruptly when I explained that I didn’t want a cosmetic treatment doing to my teeth that the dentist decided I needed.
Overall, the appointment lasted less than 5 minutes but whole experience left me overwhelmed and exhausted. I should point out that I was wearing my sunflower lanyard throughout to highlight my access needs.
There are so many things that could be done to make this more accessible such as:
- Explaining when I booked the appointment that they would be closed when I arrived.
- Listening to me when I explained that I had filled in the forms
- Not using the shredder whilst I was in the waiting room.
- Having a note on my record about my sensory issues and previously tried methods.
Accessibility shouldn’t be seen as something that is too difficult to do but instead simple steps that places can take to create a less anxiety provoking experience.