Now that the summer has come to an end, it is time for parents to think about the fall season, back to school, and catching up on doctors and dentist check-up appointments. Visiting the dentist can be a frightening sensory experience for some children with autism. Here are some tips when taking your child with autism to the dentist.
When making the appointment, remember the following:
1. Make sure you schedule the visit for the time of day that you know is best for your child. For example, is your son or daughter a morning or afternoon person?
2. Explain to the receptionist that your child is diagnosed with autism and that it may take longer than usual to work with him or her. If your child is having more than just a check-up, consider whether he or she would benefit more from one long session or multiple shorter sessions. Ask whether the dentist can make time for a short break during the visit.
3. Ask the receptionist if the dentist has worked with patients with autism. Has he or she participated in any kind of national organization or training focusing on children with special needs?
4. Explain your child’s sensory issues to the receptionist. Does he or she get bothered by light, sound, touch or any other stimuli? Ask if there is any way the dentist can account for your child’s sensory needs.
5. Mention that your child needs a certain item to distract them when they are feeling anxious and would it be okay if you brought that item to the appointment. For example, a portable DVD player, music, stuffed animals, Ipads, Iphones, sensory balls, or a toy.
6. If your child has been to the particular dentist office before, ask if you can have the same dental hygienist so that your child feels comfortable with a familiar face. If you have never been to the dental office, ask if you can get access to pictures of the staff members and office, that way your child is exposed their faces and what the office will look like. If you think that your child will have difficulty adjusting to the dental visit, ask if you can schedule a pre-visit. That way he or she can see the office and examination room.
Once you have scheduled the appointment, here are some ways that you can prepare before meeting with the dentist:
1. Use a timer to help your child understand what it is like to sit in their seat for a certain amount of time. First start at a minute and then increase in 15 to 30 second intervals.
2. Read books or social stories about going to the dentist.
3. Talk to your child about the different steps of going to the dental office. Provide a step by step explanation for him or her of what to expect starting the moment they enter the dentist office. Find pictures online of each step and work with your child to create a book about going to the dentist.
On the day of your child’s dentist appointment, make sure not to forget the following:
1. Make sure your child is not hungry, thirsty or tired. Bring a snack to eat in the car or while waiting for your appointment.
2. Bring a list of your child’s medications and dosages. The dentist should be aware of this information in case he or she has to use Novocain or prescribe any kind of medication.
3. Tell the dentist as much as you can about your child. What makes him or her most anxious? What helps them feel more comfortable? What is the best way to communicate with your child? What helps calm them down when he or she is upset? What were his or her past experiences with dentists like? Is there any medical condition that may impact his or her dental treatment?
4. Ask as many questions as possible about follow-up treatment. What exactly should you do when you get home to help improve your child’s oral health? If additional visits are needed, make sure you fully understand what will be happening during these appointments. Ask what is the best way to contact the dentist if you have any more questions, or if your child is in any kind of pain.
Once you get to the dentist office:
1. Call ahead in advance to make sure the dentist is on schedule. If your child is not comfortable with new environments, it may be better to wait in the car or walk around the neighborhood. Ask if they can call you when it is your appointment.
2. Give your child verbal praise or a reward system for each step of the dentist visit that he or she completes without any problems.
3. Stay calm: talk to your child in a soothing voice if he or she is having any difficulties.
Once you come home from the dentist, you can work on your child’s oral health by:
1. Creating a chart so they can earn a sticker for every time they brush their teeth. After a certain number of stickers then they will get a reward that you have chosen together.
2. Offer different choices. Toothbrushes come in different colors, cartoon characters, and strong or hard bristle. Dental flosses can come in different flavors or individual flosses. Experiment with different choices to see what your child likes and dislikes.
3. If he or she is sensitive to using a toothbrush, then start by using a wash cloth to wipe their teeth and gums. Then proceed to using an infant toothbrush that you can put on your finger. Take your time and slowly work up to a regular or electric toothbrush.
4. Make it fun! Use games or songs to help encourage your child to want to take care of their oral health.
5. Set up a specific place in the bathroom for your child’s dental supplies so that he or she will always know where they can find their toothbrush and toothpaste. Be sure to leave everything in a place that is accessible to them so that they can begin to develop an independent routine of brushing their own teeth.
6. Keep to a morning and nightly routine, that way the child always knows what to expect next. Also, don’t forget to inform other caretakers of the routine. Take pictures of your child while he or she is engaging in each task and then tape it to the wall or make it into a little book so that they always have something to refer to if needed.
Frances Victory Ph.D., C.P.C is a Developmental Psychologist and Life Coach for parents of children with autism. For more information about her work, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.drvictorycoaching.com.