Doctor and Dentist Visits Don’t Have to be Dreadful for a Child on the Spectrum

September 8, 2016 11:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

At the beginning of every school year it is imperative to have your young ones attend their physical to make sure they are healthy. These visits can be stressful, especially to kids with special needs and their parents, but they don’t have to be! Taking special measures before going to the doctors or dentist can make the difference between smiles and tears.

Talk About It

Prior to going to the doctors or dentist, sit down with your child and discuss the visit. Begin by saying what your child should expect during the visit and how you expect your child to act during the visit. You can let your child choose something s/he wants and let them know s/he can earn it after the visit, if s/he follow the expectations. You can set up a system that allows a child to know the guidelines and how to earn something s/he wants.

Social Stories

In addition to discussing the visit with your child, you can make a quick and easy social story. A social story can describe a situation in easily understandable terms, that are meant to be easily relatable to children with autism. A social story can include many pictures that can help relate a child to the future situation. Social stories are unique and individual to your child, which means making them can be fun.  

First, Then

Similar to talking about it with your child, if your child is too young to understand a set of expectations, sometimes a first, then statement is best. Based on the Premack Principle, a first, then statement sets up a low probability behavior first and then a high probability behavior second. One example of the Premack Principle that many people are familiar with is, “First eat your broccoli, then you can have dessert”. By setting up a first, then statement your child is more likely to engage in the low probability behavior, which in this case is the visit to the dentist/doctor.

Check it Out!

Prior to the actual visit, plan a first visit without any actual procedures occurring. Bring positive items/activities for your child to engage in while you are checking out the office. Allowing your child to explore the area and engage in fun activities helps pair the office as a good place. It has the potential to eliminate problems within a transition to a novel environment.

Desensitization

Sometimes it might not be the entire visit but a certain medical tool or sound that is common at the doctors that evokes problem behavior. One common way we work to decrease inappropriate behavior towards a procedure is to do a desensitization. Our desensitization programs systematically shape the tolerance a child has towards a certain item or procedure. For example, if a child is averse to an otoscope, we would initially have the child tolerate the otoscope being on the table, next to his head, by his ear, touching outside his ear, and so on until he can tolerate the otoscope being in his ear for the length of examination. Make sure to reinforce every success in the shaping chain!

Reinforce!

At the base of all of these suggestions, it is important to reinforce appropriate behavior. By reinforcing these behaviors, the inappropriate behaviors are less likely to occur. It is important to not reinforce the inappropriate behaviors as well!

If you have any questions or would like assistance with an upcoming doctor or dentist visit, please call the staff at BCOTB! We would love to hear from you.

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