I know there have been numerous articles written where people are advised to have a doctor for the family, and I remember mentioning to my mother, when I was 16, “But what happens if a couple get married and each had a separate doctor beforehand?” My mother’s response was, “That frequently happens, and there can be (traditional) families where the man sees one doctor, the woman sees another doctor and the kids either see Mum’s or Dad’s doctor or sometimes, they have yet another doctor.” So, it’s not the case that if a man and a woman get married that one has to change to the other’s doctor.

And yes, I see the merit, as in, if a young adult has high blood pressure, the doctor might say, “Okay, maybe it’s not a poor diet, maybe it’s hereditary.” I said to my mother that the only concern I had was that her paternal grandmother, my great-grandmother, had a brain tumour, and that she died nearly 24 years before I was born. (I was 20, when I said it).

But, for me, I’m the only autistic member of my immediate family (I have one autistic and one other neurodivergent cousin and a few autistic second cousins) and my needs are different. If you asked my mother, she would tell you that her doctor and I were getting on so well until another influence came along and I suddenly wanted to change. The truth, however, is that at 19, I hadn’t been to the doctor for three years, and I was asking some carefully coded questions at 16, such as, “Did you need permission to change your doctor?” My mother said that not for a GP, but you did for a specialist.

Add to that the fact that I’m somebody who believes in doing things by the book. Well, okay, I believe in showing compassion towards people, but not in breaking the rules for the sake of doing a favour for someone. I remember, when I was 16, my mother telling me that I needed a tetanus needle (I didn’t) and that her doctor had looked through the family’s records and said that we all needed one. Now, I thought, “What???” This doctor should have said, “Peter is sixteen, so I can’t discuss his medical history with you without his consent. What I can do, however, is make a note on his file to check it when he next comes in.” When I mentioned it to my kidney specialist, she even said, “That’s a bit weird.” (On the doctor’s part). I felt that if I had continued to see my parents’ GP when I was 19–20, that I could not be certain of my confidentiality.

I remember, when I was in Year Ten, we were given some sex education at school, and a consultant told us about sexual health clinics and she said that unlike with the family doctor, a sexual health clinic cannot discuss it with your parents or send a report to your doctor. I also remember that year, we had a visiting school nurse and she said that if we had a problem we didn’t feel comfortable talking to our folks about, we could talk to her. I wish, when I was 16, I had have been able to go and see her and that she’d have been able to say (had I known I’m autistic), “Okay, I see the problem. Instead of your mother, do you have a trusted friend or a trusted peer support worker or mentor who could accompany you to the doctor?”

The following year, during Human Relationships Education, we had to discuss and make value judgements on people in a story, and in my case, I had to consider the family doctor, who put a young girl on the pill without consulting her parents. I said that I thought the family doctor did the right thing, as that is something that should be between patient and doctor and the girl should discuss it with her parents, not through the doctor.

When people talk of empathy, I was able to empathise with a young woman who changed from her family doctor to a female doctor because she felt more comfortable discussing her health with a female doctor than a male. I’m the same, in that my parents’ doctor had an approach that might be all right for a football team but was completely wrong for a more sensitive person.

What I’ve said is not to say that I hate my parents (I don’t, I love them) but rather that when you’re the different one in your family, it can be difficult to relate to some people your family can. It can be like a teenager who is LGBTIQA and nobody else in the family understands. Now, I have known teenagers who have committed suicide because of their sexual orientation, and I knew a man who told me that after his partner’s mother died, his partner’s father walked up to him, after the funeral, and said that he was only pretending for his mother to accept his son and that he didn’t want to see him, again. His other adult children have nothing to do with him, either.

Okay, I’m not advocating that everybody when they turn 18 changes from their parents’ doctor, and, for me, I’m lucky in that if I present with something and my doctor asks if either of my parents have it, I can say yes or no, but I have my patient-doctor relationship with my GP that no other member of my family is involved in. And what parents need to remember is if they have a child who is LGBTIQA+ or autistic, their health needs may be different to a neurotypical, cisgender, heterosexual person, and those needs may be better met by a different doctor to the one you chose for them. And, it can also be like one sibling who enjoys playing a computer game with their friend and it’s their special game, and another sibling joins in without being invited and spoils it for others.

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.