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Preparing a Child with Autism for Doctor or Dentist Appointments

Posted on 08/07/2017 at 12:00 AM by Julie McCarty

By Madeleine Moody

Heartland AEA School Psychologist


Making a visit to the doctor or dentist with a child can be challenging for anyone. Below you will find a few suggestions to consider for making these appointments a more positive experience for your child with Autism.

Communicate with Professionals

  • When setting up the appointment, ask staff what will be expected throughout the appointment.

  • Familiarize yourself with procedures and familiarize staff with child needs.

  • Communicate throughout the appointment as well. Take breaks when needed and be confident advocating for what your child may need throughout the appointment to make it a better experience.

Pre-Teach Necessary Skills

  • After familiarizing yourself with procedures, you can pre-teach necessary steps to your child before the appointment. Examples include: sit/lay in chair, stay still, hands down, open mouth.

  • You can teach these skills at home prior to the visit using visual supports, modeling and several opportunities to practice with reinforcement.

Visual Supports

  • Creating a visual schedule for the visit can help your child recognize what comes first, what is next and how much of the appointment is left. You could use a “first, then” schedule with only two pictures at a time, or have all of the pictures in order and remove them as they are complete. Your schedule will vary based on your child’s developmental level.

  • You may also consider a short social story to explain the doctor/dentist visit and what they will experience.

  • Much like the schedule, using visual prompts (sit down, open mouth, etc.) will help your child discriminate what you are asking them to do more easily than relying on language alone.

Reinforcement & Pairing

  • Bring items and activities your child finds highly preferred and provide frequent access to them based on each step or action they complete. You will probably want to reinforce throughout the entire appointment rather than only waiting until the end.

  • You can also pair some of your child’s favorite things with the appointment to make it a comfortable, happy place to be (e.g., they can wear their favorite clothes, wear their favorite sunglasses instead of office goggles that are provided, watch shows, listen to music, and/or have their favorite stuffed animal or toy with them).

Heartland AEA School Psychologists Madeleine Moody, Kristen Bloch and Jane Jensen and School Social Worker Morgan Stone blog about challenging behavior and autism and the services and supports available from Heartland AEA. Check back here to get more helpful tips and supports!

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