Jed Gardner is like the real-life "Good Doctor" from ABC's popular TV series.
See what life is like for Jed, an urgent care doctor that has autism spectrum disorder. Learn about his story, experiences, and his advice for parents with kids that have ASD. Jed explains how the perception ABC's "Good Doctor" portrays is misleading.
Have you ever wondered just how much those with learning disabilities are actually capable of? We are all probably wondering what it's like to be an urgent care doctor that is on the autism spectrum. If you are on the autism spectrum or have kids on it, Jed has some inspiring words for you to help realize how gifted those people truly are. Jed is on the spectrum himself so he can relate to those on the spectrum.
Please tell us who you are and what you do?
Answer: My name is Jed Gardner, I am a family physician who is board certified in family medicine. I work for Intermountain Healthcare at the Sunset InstaCare in St. George, Utah. I use to do full-service family medicine for about 20 years. The first 5 or 6 years I had my own practice, and then I started teaching at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
When were you diagnosed with autism?
Answer: I am self-diagnosed. I had some suspicions for many years. My oldest son has four children, with three on the spectrum. Two of them are autistic, one of whom is nonverbal. As I started to interact with my grandkids, I saw more and more of myself in them. I began reading many books and doing research at this point because I was increasingly becoming more convinced that I may have ASD.
I officially diagnosed myself when about seven years ago, the clinic I was working at had patients fill out patient perception questionnaires (PPQs). This questionnaire was meant to measure perceived patient quality. My numbers were always low, and I started looking at why. People said I was arrogant, lacked empathy, and didn't smile or engage with them. I went online and filled out an empathy questionnaire. I found out that my score was way low, like Asperger's range low. It's perceived empathy so even though I am not trying to come off a certain way, people perceive that I am.
With the autism spectrum, there are certain criteria you look at. One of the criteria is speech delay. Kids with autism frequently don't speak for an extended period of time or they speak and then they don't speak for a long time. I didn't speak until I was three and a half years old. That's about a year and a half delay compared to when children normally speak. The story is told that when I was younger my siblings would try to get me to speak by telling me to say this or say that. I rarely said anything and if I did I'd mumble maybe one or two words. Finally, I got tired of them constantly asking me to say things and I said, "I don't want to play your stupid games anymore!". Those were my first words. It wasn't that I couldn't speak, it's just that I felt I had no reason to speak.
How does ASD affect your interactions with other doctors, nurses, and patients?
Answer: With patients, I am perceived as being cold, aloof, and uncaring. This lack of empathy is something that is a common trait in people who are on the autism spectrum. My colleagues, on the other hand, have said they think I'm the smartest doctor they've ever seen. Sometimes my colleagues will ask "Did you really say that to the patient Jed?", and I guess that goes to show that I am a blunt person. People think they want an honest answer, but that's not exactly true. People don't necessarily want an honest answer, they want to feel comfortable with the answer they want. They don't want to be told they don't need an antibiotic or that their pain isn't enough for a narcotic.
What advice would you give to parents who have children with autism?
Answer: I think the most important thing is knowing that probably about 10% of people on the autism spectrum are gifted. What I mean by gifted is the ability to do something far and above what other people can do. "Genius" occurs in the general population about 1 in a million, but in the autism spectrum, it is 1 in a thousand. There are two genius types, one is an IQ above 140 & one is an IQ above 165. If 1 in 10 kids are gifted, the job of the parent is not to make the child conform to society. It is to find out what that gift is and encourage them to develop it to the best of their ability.
There is an analogy in medicine I want to share. There are the specialists and then there are generalists. A specialist learns everything they can about a specific subject. The subject is narrow, but their knowledge is deep and profound. A generalist has to know a lot about everything, but the depth of their knowledge isn't as deep. People on the autism spectrum have very narrow interests. They will have a specific interest and know everything about that specific thing, kind of like a specialist.
The challenge to an autistic parent is to try to have the child develop many narrow interests. If they have narrow interests about two things that are similar, they will develop connections and insights that no one else will ever see.
Never assume that your child is broken; your child is different not broken.
Are you involved in any groups or non-profits that relate to autism?
Answer: Yes I am. I have actually started a group called Aspie's Retreat. Its goal is to provide a safe environment where individuals on the spectrum can enjoy life. They can go there and have experiences with art, creativity, and adventures. At the same time, they could be in a safe environment so they don't have to worry about someone making fun of them. It is an opportunity to make connections with other people. You feel really alone if you feel like you're the only person that has a problem. If you can get into a group of people with similar "problems", it's not that big of a deal to the individual. The vision is for Aspie's Retreat to have 20-40 acres of land near Sand Hollow Reservoir. There will be individual residencies where people could come and check in kind of like a hotel. I see a place where kids can come and give mom & dad a break because it's hard for the parent.