Children with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty responding to new people, sensations and places, which is why going to the dentist can become such a monumental task. If you have had trouble taking your autistic child to the dentist in the past or are bracing for the first real examination, you may be able to promote a better experience for everyone involved by understanding and working with the difficulties caused by autism. These four steps can help cast the dentist in a positive light and ensure your child makes it through the appointment without a public meltdown.
Preparing Your Child Beforehand
Autistic children may struggle to communicate verbally or non-verbally, but they are often capable of greater comprehension than they are given credit for. A few weeks before visiting the dentist, start talking to your child about who dentists are and what they do to help growing teeth. It may be helpful to buy a play-set of dental tools and let your child pretend to clean your teeth, explaining each implement in the process. This familiarity can give your child a point of reference to fall back on while at the dentist and increase his or her confidence at the same time.
Finding the Right Dentist's Office
Not all dentist offices have experience with special needs children, and that distinction can mean the difference between a relaxed, fun exam and a screaming fit. Generally, a pediatric dentist's office may be more accommodating to autistic children and less intimidating overall. Before you schedule an appointment, talk to your child's dentist and hygienist about autism and what they can do to make your child more comfortable. A worthwhile pediatric dentist should be both willing and able to adapt as needed to make your child's experience a positive one.
Explaining Procedures as They Occur
Even neurotypical children are frequently afraid of the dentist, and autism can complicate the issue if your child also suffers from sensory problems. Your child will experience new sensations and tastes during a dental exam, and not all of them are pleasant. As long as your child is comfortable with it, ask your dentist to narrate what he or she is doing to keep your child engaged and put the new sensory information in context. By turning the exam into a learning opportunity, you and your dentist can help your child feel involved and in control of the situation.
Providing a Stimming Outlet
If your child displays self-stimulating, or stimming, behaviors when stressed, be mindful of the need for an outlet while at the dentist's office. Bringing along a small stress ball or comforting object for your child to hold during the exam may be all it takes to relieve building anxiety and make the process more bearable. By listening to your child's concerns, accommodating autism and ensuring the experience is light-hearted, you can teach your child that the dentist's office is a positive experience to be looked forward to in the future instead of something to be dreaded.
For more information, contact A Wild Smile or a similar location.