Barriers to Accessing Primary Health Care for Autistic Individuals

Barriers for autistic patients in healthcare

Based on research led by an autistic doctor, Mary Doherty, most autistic individuals who suffer from medical conditions, whether physical or mental, face difficulties while seeking medical attention.

507 autistic and 157 non-autistic participants were recruited using social media and mainly resided in the United Kingdom or Ireland. The information was obtained using an online survey and the questionnaire was composed of multiple-choice together with open-ended questions.

The Top 6 Healthcare Barriers That Autistic Individuals Encounter When Seeking Medical Consultation. 

Statistic of top 6

1. Difficulty deciding if symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit 

The decision about whether or not symptoms justify a visit to the doctor was the most frequently mentioned obstacle among autistic adults.

2. Using the telephone to book an appointment 

The telephone, voicemail, and face-to-face verbal communication were all avoided by autistic respondents. They stated that it is more convenient for them to communicate in writing.

3.  Not feeling understood

The autistic respondents stated that they have difficulty summarizing when expressing medical concerns because they want to provide the entire story and not leave anything out and have a desire to prioritize the health issues they are experiencing.

4. Difficulty communicating with the doctor

Autistic responders said they had difficulty communicating during a consultation “all the time” or “frequently .”It was also noted that anxiety makes it harder for them to communicate.

5. Waiting room environment 

Autistic responders regarded the different behavior of other patients, receptionists, or medical professionals as being concerning. Uncertainty about the length of the waiting period, what would happen during the appointment, and which doctor they would need to see in particular were all concerns.

6. Long wait to get an appointment

Uncertainty about the wait time, what would happen during the consultation, whose doctor they would see, and how long the consultation would go were all significant challenges for the patients.

15 Barriers were identified in the research. To check the full list, click here.

Consequences of these Barriers

Patients may choose not to continue with the consultation as a result of all or some of these barriers. Participants reported negative outcomes, including untreated mental and physical health concerns. 60% were told that they should have sought medical attention sooner. Because of the delay in seeking care, 36% of patients needed more extensive treatment or surgery, and 34% were not treated for a potentially serious or life-threatening condition. More than that, autistic patients were less likely to appear on the schedule for screening programs than non-autistic responders.

When it comes to accessing the healthcare system, autistic individuals face challenges. These difficulties may result in known healthcare problems, such as increased morbidity and mortality. Understanding the healthcare experiences and access challenges that autistic individuals face can help us make progress toward eliminating healthcare barriers for this vulnerable patient population. These barriers do not so much indicate a failure to provide or receive healthcare but a failure to intersect the communication patterns between autistic individuals and non-autistic healthcare providers.

How IBCCES can help

IBCCES Delivers The Global Standard for Training and Certification in The Field of Cognitive Disorders – IBCCES provides a series of certifications that empower healthcare professionals to be leaders in their field and improve the outcomes for the individuals they serve. These programs are recognized around the world as the leading benchmark for training and certification in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders.


Doherty M, Neilson S, O’Sullivan J et al. Barriers to healthcare and self-reported adverse outcomes for autistic adults: a cross-sectional study Available:

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