The doctor enters the room without knocking. I sit up on the examination table and press my palm to the side of my face, trying to breathe through the pain, trying to find my words. I usually avoid walk-in doctors, but it’s a holiday today, so my regular doctor isn’t available and there’s no way I can make it until tomorrow in this much pain.
"Oh, hello— Why is the light off? I need the light to see the computer." She flicks on the overhead light and drops into the seat in front of the glowing screen.
"Okay." I’m not sure what to say here. Her voice demands an answer, her question is not rhetorical. "The light was bothering me, so I turned it off."
"What?" She asks loudly, turning her head towards me but not taking her eyes off of the computer screen. I start to speak again but she cuts me off— "What? I can’t hear you!"
I repeat myself, as loudly as I can.
"So why was the light off?"
"Fluorescent lights hurt me." So does talking. I can feel my panic building as the pain in my lower job throbs. I’ve been waiting so long. I just want to go home.
"I’m Autistic." Now her whole body turns towards me. Her eyes travel up and down and then back again.
"You were diagnosed with Autism?" The phrasing is deliberately light but the tone is unmistakable (it’s that old familiar, disbelief).
"Yes. I am Autistic."
"How did that happen? Who diagnosed you?" Marvin shifts in his seat, frowning slightly, wanting to say something but letting me speak for myself.
"Doctor Todd Mason at the ABLE clinic. He diagnosed me. But that’s not why I’m here." I say it as firmly as I can.
"Ah. Okay. Well then why are you here?"
I explain that I recently had my wisdom teeth extracted, but that I’ve been healing slowly and just need a refill of my pain medication to hold me over until I can see the dental surgeon again. I show her my other medications. She asks a question or two about the surgery. I think that maybe we’re past the ‘autism thing’ now and so I relax a little. No such luck. She pauses typing and looks over with a confused (and maybe slightly challenging) look on her face.
"You don’t look like you have Autism to me."
Marvin straightens in his chair. I fold my hands in my lap. We shoot each other identical glances and I pause to think before I answer. Carefully. Because I need help, and this doctor can help me, but she might just choose not to if I make a wrong step.
"There aren’t… There aren’t actually any physical indicators of Autism."
"Then how did you get this diagnosis?" Her facial expression indicates slyness, as if she thinks she’s got me there. Like I’m going to suddenly burst out laughing and admit I’ve been joking with her and of course she’s right.
"Well, specialists look for autistic traits in different areas." I feel myself losing my words. The world vibrates. The lights flicker and burn me. Pain throbs. "Like, I have narrow-but-deep interests, and I have sensory integration issues, and I have some cognitive disabilities also. I can’t tell time from clocks with hands. So the doctor who diagnosed me looked for these traits, these autistic ‘symptoms’, and then put them together. That is how Autism is diagnosed. Looking for the traits."
As I’m speaking the doctor’s expression shifts from confused, to annoyed, and then to totally disinterested. She has stopped listening. As she prints off the prescription and signs it she manages to get the last word in on the topic, one last jab of invalidation, one last challenge.
"Well, you don’t seem like you have Autism to me."
I know. I know that I don’t “seem like I have Autism” to you. I know that you wonder why on earth I would say such a thing, and how could I look and act the way that I do and be Autistic? But that is a failing on your part Doctor, not on mine.
I wasn’t trying to challenge you. I didn’t mean to make you feel insecure or confused or ignorant (although you were those last two). And I didn’t deserve to be interrogated, or your judgement. I just needed your help.
You should have let it go and Googled it later. I hope you do better next time.
at this stage in my life, i now have a firm policy: I Am Not Autism Google.
i will write down “google: autism self-advocacy network” to keep them from finding A$ first. then my duty is done. if they keep at me, they’re being rude and i’m allowed to make the “wow, rude!” face and any smart remarks i might think of.
as for the very occasional person who decides to Splain Me A Thing about autism, on the assumption that as an allistic they obviously know more than i do about it, i find that little hand-pinchy gesture and sharp ‘hsst!’ that Dr. Evil does in Austin Powers pretty effective.
Repeat until they STFU or burst into tears.