Since 2001, when the Child Health Act was passed mandating surveillance and research on autism spectrum disorder, there has been consistent discourse and sustained interest regarding the topic in popular and professional literature. The focus, and rightly so, has been primarily on understanding the rising rate, risk factors, and causes. Of course, the most worthy goal is to find a cause so we can find a cure. But, until then we are neighbors, friends, caretakers, and observers of people affected by this disorder. With a prevalence rate of 1 in 88 we will encounter someone with ASD.
As nurses, we are acutely aware of how much more difficult our job as healers becomes when we do not know or do not fully understand the needs of our patients. For example, if we do not know a person has a genetic variant that makes him or her rapidly metabolize some medications, we might unknowingly continue giving dosages of a drug, waiting for the effect, but not knowing the medication has already been eliminated. The therapeutic intent of the treatment is lost due to incomplete information. In a parallel way, a nurse might expect and require rapt attention and meaningful eye contact from a patient during discharge planning (e.g., what to eat and do after surgery). But, if the nurse does not know the patient has autism–perhaps a mild form–and that he or she has never be able to make eye contact or demonstrate undivided attention, this nurse might label the patient as uncooperative, disrespectful or incapable of learning. The therapeutic intent of the interaction is similarly lost.
So, when you think about this example, it makes perfect sense to teach all nurses about autism spectrum disorder, because sooner or later they will be caring for a person who is on the autism spectrum. Knowing how and when to blend knowledge of ASD with nursing knowledge should be best practice nursing care. We presumed this highest level of care, when preparing our edited book, Nursing of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence-based Integrated Care across the Lifespan. We considered the many different venues and health care services in which a nurse might encounter a person with ASD.