A parent in one of LinkedIn’s autism groups recently asked a question regarding autism and the dentist. Like most autism parents, I find a trip to my son’s dentist to be a nightmare that occurs once every few months. Even though he no longer has frequent meltdowns, I can count on them happening here. I expect to post on this topic frequently as we deal with it over time, but here is a quick list of considerations that might be helpful for parents of kids with sensory issues:
1) Shop around. Look for a pediatric dentist who has experience with kids with autism or related disorders. Even if you have to drive a few extra miles, it will be worth it. Find someone who has a sense of humor and a determination to provide the necessary dental care even in stressful situations. (You’ll be able to assess these traits after the first time your kid starts kicking and screaming in the chair).
2) Make nice with the office staff. You and your child are going to need extra attention and you want them to like you. If the receptionist wants to hold your kid’s hand and walk him around the office while you speak to the dentist, all the better.
3) Arrive late and leave quickly. Call in advance of each scheduled appointment and ask if they are running late. Remind your friends on the office staff that you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the waiting area. Schedule future appointments from home, over the phone, and ask if you can provide payment information this way as well.
4) Determine where you should be be while your child is in the dentist’s chair. This will depend on a number of factors including your child’s reactions to the situation, the dentist’s policies and your own ability to help as necessary. I often need to help with physical restraint during cleanings and exams. Although this is no fun at all, it gets us all out of there more quickly. We are going to look in to using social stories over the next year by building them into our home-based ABA program.
5) Don’t forget to bring a comfort item. For us, it is as simple as bring a water bottle and a straw. The good news for us is that the kicking and screaming end immediately after MJ is able to leave the chair. A cool drink of water helps to calm him down even more.
This isn’t a complete list and it won’t work in every situation. (We recently had to schedule a same-day surgery procedure which involved several fillings and two pulled teeth.) Much more on dentists and teeth brushing to follow.