Finding an autism-friendly OB-GYN

July 31, 2019

My daughter is almost 13, so I’m planning to schedule her first well-woman exam before school starts. How can I find OB/GYNs or other health care providers who are experienced and sensitive to the needs of women and girls with autism?

This Got Questions? answer comes from the Autism Speaks Services and Support staff. If you have specific questions about services for your child, contact the Autism Response Team at 1-888-AUTISM2 or familyservices@autismspeaks.org.

You’re right on schedule! The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends a first visit to the gynecologist for girls ages 13-15 and a well-woman checkup each year. Women with autism are less likely than other women to go for annual well-woman visits, so getting your daughter used to going for these checkups is a good way to help keep her healthy throughout her life. Sharing information like this with her can help her feel confident in advocating for her own health care.

If your daughter is non-speaking or requires support or alternative methods of communication, be open with the provider about her needs. Also, you may want to request a longer visit or split a full checkup into more than one visit. Work with the provider and the office staff to help make the visit a positive experience.

Finding a provider

Several kinds of providers can do a well-woman checkup, including:

  • A gynecologist
  • A family practice doctor
  • A family nurse practitioner
  • A women’s health nurse practitioner

To find a provider who specializes in caring for young girls and women with autism:

  • Ask your daughter’s pediatrician or primary care provider to recommend a provider.
  • Ask your friends and other autism families in your community.
  • Use this listing of gynecologists from the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network to find a provider in your state.
  • Click here to see if there’s an Autism Treatment Network site in your area.
  • Contact our Autism Response Team.

Find out what kind of provider your daughter wants. Does she want to see a man or a woman? What does she like about her current healthcare providers? What doesn’t she like? Learning what she wants can help you find the right person.

Getting ready for the first visit

Find out what to expect at the first visit. Ask the provider and staff what will happen at the visit. If possible, include your daughter in finding out together. Or share what you learn with her. For more information about what happens at a first visit, see ACOG’s FAQ for teens.

Be specific about your daughter’s preferences and needs and what the provider and staff can do adapt the exam to meet them. If possible, support your daughter in sharing her needs and preferences. Talk to the provider about:

  • Your daughter’s social communication and sensory needs and preferences, especially if she’s non-speaking or needs visuals or communication tools to participate.
  • Scheduling the visit on days when the office isn’t busy, limiting the amount of wait time before the visit or offering an exam room for waiting instead of the reception area.
  • Providing handouts or visual supports to share with your daughter before the visit.
  • Using a calm, quiet voice and direct, simple language and/or visuals as each step of the procedure takes place.
  • Limiting the amount of time your daughter is on the exam table and adjusting her position, if necessary. If your daughter has an occupational therapist, ask about alternate positions and sensory issues for a well-woman exam.
  • Medicine that may help your daughter relax during the exam.
  • Special interests your daughter may want to share with the staff to help her feel calm and safe.

Once you’ve planned with the provider, share with your daughter that it’s OK for her to be nervous—you were nervous about your first visit, too! Here’s what you can do:

  • Explain that the nurses and the provider will make sure she’s safe and comfortable, especially on the exam table.
  • Help her make a list of questions to ask. These can be about the visit or about things like getting her period. Let her practice how she’ll ask the questions to the provider.
  • Find out if she wants to share a special interest with staff during this visit.
  • If she wants to share her sensory and communication needs and preferences or ask for certain accommodations at the visit, help her write a script or role-play this in advance.
  • Remind her that you can be with her the whole time, if she wants you to be.
  • Plan something special to do together after the checkup. Let her pick what she’d like to do and remind her about it before and during the visit.

When you take your daughter to the visit:

  • Help her relax. Take music, fidgets or other comfort items that may help her feel calm.
  • Support her if she decides to request an accommodation or share her communication or sensory needs and preferences with office staff.
  • Remind her of the special plans you made for after the visit.  
  • If she wants to, let her share her special interest with the staff.
  • Ensure her that you’ll be with her the whole time, if she wants you to be.

If your daughter needs a pelvic exam

A pelvic exam helps healthcare providers check the female reproductive organs. It also includes screening for health conditions, like cervical cancer.

Your daughter most likely doesn’t need a pelvic exam until she’s 21. But if she has certain health conditions, like painful or heavy periods, she may be advised to get one earlier. If she needs this exam, use the tips above to prepare her ahead of time so she knows what to expect. When possible, look for opportunities for your daughter to advocate for her medical needs, if she wants to.

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