When preparing a child with autism spectrum disorder for a dental visit, parents may feel overwhelmed. While it might not be as smooth as you would like it to be, with careful preparation and positive reinforcement, visiting the dentist can be a positive experience for both the child and the parent.
Here are key things to keep in mind when preparing a child with autism for a dental visit
Find an experienced dentist
Look for a dentist who has experience with children with autism. Not all dentists will have the skills to deal with a special needs child’s behaviour. Having the right professional and staff to support you and your child can be a deal-breaker.
Familiarise your child with the dentist
Schedule a “getting to know you” visit before the actual appointment. This will allow your child to meet the dentist and get comfortable with the surroundings.
Before your appointment, visit the dentist’s office and take some pictures. Take a picture of the entrance of the building, the waiting room and the room where the dental procedure will happen. If possible, take a picture of the dentist and the staff assisting the dentist on the day of your child’s visit.
Show the pictures to your child and talk about them. The more exposure to the environment, the more familiar your child will become.
Play is a child’s favourite language and often the most comfortable way to express themselves—play dentist with your child. You could use toys to start with and if your child feels comfortable, pretend that you are the dentist and your child is the patient, then switch roles.
Create a guide
Provide your child with as much information about the visit as possible. Explain what will happen step-by-step in simple terms, so your child knows what to expect.
The more predictable the environment and the procedure are, the more comfortable your child will feel.
Read stories about going to the dentist or watch videos about positive experiences at the dentist.
You could create a personalised story about your child’s experience visiting the dentist. Illustrate your story with the pictures you took from the building on your “getting to know you” visit.
Manage your own anxiety
Take a moment to notice how you feel about dental visits. Before talking to your child about visiting the dentist, make sure you feel and sound comfortable with the idea.
Make it comfortable
Bring along items your child needs to feel comfortable. This could be your child’s favourite toy, blanket, fidget, or anything that helps self-regulation.
Inform your dentist of your child’s preferences
Be aware that some autistic children may be sensitive to touch and noise. Therefore, inform the dentist and staff before the appointment so they can take appropriate measures.
Appreciate your child
After the appointment, be sure to praise your child for their bravery. Positive reinforcement will go a long way in future appointments.
Visiting the dentist can be a daunting experience for any child, but especially for those with autism spectrum disorder. However, by taking some simple steps before and during the visit, both the child and parent can have a positive experience. Our free Going to the Dentist personalisable book is designed to help make that process a little easier. We hope you find it helpful!