When we feel sick, we go to the doctor. When we have a toothache, we go to the dentist. These appointments help us stay healthy and are essential to our lives. While it is common to feel a little nervous about seeing the doctor, children with autism can find these appointments especially difficult for various reasons. There may be a negative association with doctors, such as needles, medicine, or loud medical instruments. The appointment may be out of routine and cause anxiety about an unpredictable schedule. Medical language may be challenging to understand and cause the child to feel overwhelmed or confused. These reasons are valid and understandable, and there are steps you can take to make these appointments more comfortable for your child.
Inform the Doctor of Your Child’s Diagnosis
An essential first step to making doctor’s appointments more comfortable for your child is informing the healthcare professional of your child’s diagnosis. If they are not aware, let them know about your child’s triggers and anxiety, such as loud noises or bright lights. This allows the healthcare professional to adjust their environment and language to ensure your child feels welcome and safe.
Prepare Ahead of Time
In the few days or weeks leading up to the appointment, begin preparing your child for the upcoming change in routine by marking it on the calendar or creating a countdown until the day of the doctor’s visit. Let your child know the purpose of the appointment and what they can expect. If possible, look up photos of the office space or employees to familiarize your child even further. You can even draw pictures, role-play by pretending to be doctors, read books, or watch videos on the topic.
Support Your Child During the Appointment
Stay nearby whenever possible to reassure your child that they are safe and you are with them. If the appointment requires your child to go into a room without you, remind them that you will be waiting for them as soon as they are done. Bring one of your child’s favorite stuffed animals or a small toy to help establish the doctor 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. Give your child a moment to sit quietly, stim, or leave the room. This will prevent them from being overwhelmed and provide a moment to reset before the rest of the appointment.
Reinforce Positive Behavior
After the appointment, be sure to reinforce your child’s good behavior. They conquered something new and potentially scary for them! Offer a favorite treat, a preferred toy, or even verbal praise that they did a good job. Be specific about what parts of the appointment you are proud of them for, like sitting still for a shot or letting the doctor look in their ears. Being specific about what you are praising the child for increases the likelihood that they will do the same the next time they visit.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (301) 577-4333. Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.