How to improve healthcare for autistic people: A qualitative study of the views of autistic people and clinicians

David Mason*, Barry Ingham, Heather Birtles, Cos Michael, Clare Scarlett, Ian Andrew James, Toni Brown, Marc Woodbury-Smith, Colin Wilson, Tracy Finch, Jeremy R. Parr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Autism spectrum condition is associated with co-occurring physical health conditions and premature mortality. Autistic people experience multiple barriers to accessing healthcare. This study investigated autistic people’s experiences of healthcare and professionals’ experiences of providing healthcare to autistic people. Focus groups with 11 autistic people and one supporter, and 15 one-to-one interviews with healthcare professionals were completed. Nine themes emerged from the autistic participants’ data and eight themes emerged from the health professionals’ data. Three themes were identified by both groups: healthcare contacts (for improving the patient–provider relationship), making reasonable adjustments to healthcare (e.g. providing alternative places to wait for an appointment) and autism diagnosis. Autistic participants discussed the role of cognitive factors in the success of healthcare visits (such as rehearsing an anticipated conversation with the clinician the night before an appointment) and clinicians described system-level constraints that may affect healthcare delivery (such as time limits on appointments). This study identified inexpensive changes that health professionals and managers can make to improve healthcare access for autistic people. Lay abstract: Research has shown that on average, autistic people are more likely to die earlier than non-autistic people, and barriers can stop autistic people accessing healthcare. We carried out a study where we interviewed healthcare professionals (including doctors and nurses), and held discussion groups of autistic people. Our results highlighted several key points: seeing the same professional is important for autistic people and clinicians; both clinicians and autistic people think making adjustments to healthcare is important (and often possible); autistic people process information in a different way and so may need extra support in appointments; and that clinicians are often constrained by time pressures or targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)774-785
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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