The 5-Minute Guide On How To Make An Autism-Friendly Child Appointment
When it is time for a check-up, we go to the doctor. When we need our teeth looked at, we go to the dentist. When we need our eyes inspected, we go to the optometrist. These appointments help ensure we are healthy, and they are an essential part of our lives. While it is common to feel slightly anxious about seeing healthcare professionals, children with autism can find these appointments especially difficult for various reasons. There may be a negative association with healthcare professionals, such as needles, medicine, or loud medical instruments. The appointment may be out of routine and cause anxiety about an unpredictable schedule. There may be language that is difficult to understand and cause the child to feel overwhelmed or confused. These reasons are valid and understandable, and there are steps that we can take to make these appointments more comfortable for the child.
Before the appointment:
- An essential first step to making medical appointments more comfortable for your child is informing the healthcare professional of your child’s diagnosis. If they are not already informed, anything that might trigger challenging behaviours or anxiety, such as loud noises or bright lights. This allows the healthcare professional to potentially adjust their environment and language to ensure the child feels welcome and at ease.
- In the few days or weeks leading up to the appointment, begin preparing your child with the upcoming change in routine by marking it on the calendar or creating a countdown until the day of the appointment. Let the child know what they can expect and what they will be attending the appointment for. If possible, obtain photos of the employees that will be present to familiarize your child even further. Draw pictures, role play by pretending to be healthcare professionals, read books and watch videos on the topic.
Here is a great place to start. Types of doctors and what they do:
- Work with your child to ensure they are familiar with some of the basic skills required of them at the appointment, such as opening their mouth or getting used to items near their eyes or ears.
During the appointment:
- Stay nearby whenever possible to reassure your child that there is a safe and familiar face in the room. If the appointment requires the child to go into a room without you, remind them that you will be waiting for them as soon as they are done. Give the healthcare professional one of your child’s favourite stuffed animals or a small toy; this is a form of pairing and will help establish the professional as someone fun, positive, and safe.
- If possible, take breaks if your child attends a longer appointment, such as a check-up or an assessment. Offer your child a moment to sit quietly, stim, or be relieved from the room. This will prevent your child from being overwhelmed and give them a moment to reset for the rest of the appointment.
After the appointment:
- Reflect on the aspects of the appointment that the child found challenging. Work with your child to overcome these challenges to ensure their next appointment goes smoothly. Note these challenging aspects to the healthcare professional as well to see if there is anything they can do on their end to make that aspect more comfortable. For example, if your child struggled to allow the doctor to touch them with a stethoscope, try finding a toy stethoscope to use at home and ask the doctor to make sure the stethoscope is warm, possibly - metal instruments can be cold and uncomfortable!
- Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! Your child conquered something new and potentially scary for them. Offer a favourite treat, a preferred toy, or even just verbal reassurance that they did a good job. Be specific about what aspects of the appointment you are proud of them for, like keeping their mouth nice and wide for the dentist or receiving a needle so bravely from the doctor. Being specific about what you are praising the child for increases the likelihood that they will do the same actions the next time they visit.
These tips and tricks are not limited to healthcare appointments - they can be applied any time your child has to visit a new place! Just remember the 3 R’s: get Ready, Reassure, Reinforce