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  • Dr Kevin Rafferty FRCA

Autism in the Anaesthetic Room

What is Autism?


An autistic person does not have an illness or disease.


An autistic person's brain works in a different way from other people.


The NHS website describes it as a condition where people:


  • find it hard to communicate and interact with other people

  • find it hard to understand how other people think or feel

  • find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable

  • get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events

  • take longer to understand information

  • do or think the same things over and over (1,2,3)


The parents and regular carers for these patients know how they will react to a given event. Parents and regular carers are an invaluable asset in all healthcare encounters. Parents and regular carers are devoted to these individuals. The care that we give as health care professionals should be tailored to the individual and guided where possible by parents and regular carers.


Every patient in hospital is anxious and a bit lost in what is an alien environment to all apart from health care professionals. However those with Autism have a much reduced threshold to fear and anxiety as they find it difficult to comprehend this new environment.


In my clinical practice I have found caring for those with Autism a challenge. As an Anaesthetic doctor I see patients who have an urgent medical or surgical condition. These patients are usually having trouble breathing and are in pain. Patients with Autism may not understand their new trouble breathing and pain. Unfortunately the methods we use to treat trouble breathing and pain may worsen fear and anxiety. Placement of an oxygen mask on the face and intravenous cannulas are common sources of distress.(4)

Distraction techniques are beneficial in achieving a medical treatment and reducing distress. Mobile phones and toys have been used for years.(4) The Rafferty distraction headset is an evolution of this idea with integration of the oxygen or anaesthetic mask. To allow that person to voluntarily immerse themselves in a video or virtual reality experience during medical treatment.

For planned procedures virtual reality video tours can be undertaken with The Rafferty distraction headset to reduce the anxiety of what will happen and familiarise the patient with the sites and sounds of the day.(4)


Please watch this video from the National Autisitic Society.

Dr Kevin Rafferty MBChB FRCA

Anaesthetic Doctor and Inventor of The Rafferty Distraction Headset


Declarations of Interest


  • The Rafferty Distraction Headset has had no clinical trials in treatment of distress.

  • Dr Kevin Rafferty is the developer of The Rafferty Distraction Headset.

  • If you are interested in this product please contact Henley Medical who will be the distributors of this product.

EMAIL: welcome@henleysmed.com


1. NHS Website

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/what-is-autism/

2. Autism Society UK Website

https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx

3. How Virtual Reality Can Help Those With Autism Forbes article

https://www.forbes.com/sites/solrogers/2019/04/03/how-virtual-reality-can-help-those-with-autism/#fc23074198e8

4. Ryu JH, Oh AY, Yoo HJ, Kim JH, Park JW, Han SH. The effect of an immersive virtual reality tour of the operating theater on emergence delirium in children undergoing general anesthesia: A randomized controlled trial.Paediatr Anaesth. 2019;29(1):98–105. doi:10.1111/pan.13535

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30365231/

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