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Autistic nurses: do they exist?

23 February 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 4


Autism spectrum disorder is an increasing diagnosis on a global scale. Despite limitations related to the diagnosis, many people with autism are active in the workforce, often within the health care sector. It is reasonable to assume that some of those are nurses. There are very few examples of nurses with autism in the literature, mostly in non-scientific contexts, and that these mention both autism-related strengths and limitations at work. A conclusion is that research about nurses with autism is almost non-existent, and it is high time to conduct explorative research in this area. If employers are given the knowledge and the ability to support the needs of nurses with autism, it is likely to benefit the health of the individual nurse, the psychosocial working climate and patient safety.

I once had a meeting with a psychiatrist regarding my research about common mental disorders among women, a large number of whom are nurses. I asked: Since there is an association between common mental disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders, could the latter partly explain the high prevalence of common mental disorders among women employed within the health care sector, such as nurses? The psychiatrist answered: ‘Well, ADHD perhaps… but you don't find autism among nurses.’ I asked why, and the psychiatrist answered: ‘Because that job requires empathy and social skills, and autistic people do not have that, which means that they are uninterested in that kind of work.’

I left the psychiatrist's room and felt that something wasn't right, since I am a nurse with autism myself. Am I really the only one in the world? I decided to investigate the phenomenon further. This article presents background information regarding autism, offers arguments as to why nurses with autism is a relevant area to consider, details what I found out about nurses with autism, and my conclusions arising.

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