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Strategies to improve the magnetic resonance imaging experience for autistic individuals: a cross-sectional study exploring parents and carers' experiences.

BACKGROUND: Autistic individuals encounter numerous barriers in accessing healthcare, including communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and a lack of appropriate adjustments. These issues are particularly acute during MRI scans, which involve confined spaces, loud noises, and the necessity to remain still. There remains no unified approach to preparing autistic individuals for MRI procedures.

METHODS: A cross-sectional online survey was conducted with parents and carers of autistic individuals in the UK to explore their experiences, barriers, and recommendations concerning MRI scans. The survey collected demographic information and experiential accounts of previous MRI procedures. Quantitative data were analysed descriptively, while key themes were identified within the qualitative data through inductive thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Sixteen parents/carers participated. The majority reported difficulties with communication, inadequate pre-scan preparation, and insufficient adjustments during MRI scans for their autistic children. Key barriers included an overwhelming sensory environment, radiographers' limited understanding of autism, and anxiety stemming from uncertainties about the procedure. Recommended improvements encompassed accessible communication, pre-visit familiarisation, noise-reduction and sensory adaptations, staff training on autism, and greater flexibility to meet individual needs.

CONCLUSIONS: There is an urgent need to enhance MRI experiences for autistic individuals. This can be achieved through improved staff knowledge, effective communication strategies, thorough pre-scan preparation, and tailored reasonable adjustments. Co-producing clear MRI guidelines with the autism community could standardise sensitive practices. An individualised approach is crucial for reducing anxiety and facilitating participation. Empowering radiographers through autism-specific education and incorporating insights from autistic individuals and their families could transform MRI experiences and outcomes.

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