Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) provides doctors and surgeons with amazingly detailed information about any part of the body that we are having problems with. So much more detailed than x-rays. That’s because it uses radio waves and magnetisation to produce cross-sections of the part of the body concerned. It also has the bonus of being radiation-free, unlike x-rays. MRIs are used for a huge array of problems and assessments, from broken bones to head injuries.

Why is this particularly relevant to us neurodivergents? For two reasons, at least.

  1. Neurodivergent people, sadly, tend to have a very high number of co-occurring conditions. Hospital appointments are commonly a regular feature in many of our lives.
  2. As if any form of medical appointment isn’t stressful enough, being asked to lie down, completely still, whilst listening to pounding metallic sounds, with the ceiling of the scanner uncomfortably close to the face, is enough to send many of us off screaming into the sunset. It really is challenging.

And medical professionals know this. Or rather, medical professionals with any sort of awareness of autism know this (that’s a very big drop in numbers between these two sentences). People of all neurotypes struggle with MRIs. It’s why the donut scanner was invented, more officially referred to as the ‘open scanner’. Whilst not giving such high quality detail, it means that, particularly for those of us with claustrophobia, we can be scanned without going into that dreadful tunnel. You have the right to request an open scanner when you are referred.

I’m writing this post because recent research by Dr Christina Malamateniou has looked into how difficult the MRI experience is for autistic people (original journal article here ← if you’re up for an interesting and very detailed read) . In this second link, the University of London are interviewing her regarding the results. She found that there is a lack of knowledge and training for radiographers with regard to autism. They don’t understand our hypersensitivities, our anxiety, or anything about us. There is a lack of standardised practice and no formal guidelines as to how to proceed when a patient tells them they are autistic.

The article raises multiple possibilities to improve the MRI experience for autistic people. The review that Dr Malamateniou was part of was conducted at the end of 2021. I’d be really keen to hear from any of you regarding your recent MRI experiences, to see if their findings have led to any positive changes as yet. Please contact me via the Share form.