Most children are less than keen to visit the dentist, but for a child with autism, it can sometimes be a traumatic and stressful experience. This is often down to a lack of understanding and sensory issues such that feel like invasion of their personal space. Thankfully, parents and carers can use the following steps to make dental visits a positive and calming experience for their child. Here's how...
Visit your child's dentist beforehand.
In helping to prepare your child for their visit, it may be wise to speak with your child's dentist about their appointment and what they can expect from start to finish. The more you can know about the procedure, the less chance of any distressing surprises on the day.
It can also be a good idea to suss out the atmosphere at the dental office. Ask yourself, "Will there be a long wait beforehand? Will my child share a waiting room with lots of other kids? Does it seem too noisy?" Many autistic children have a strong reaction to noise due to an auditory processing delay, meaning that what they see and hear is often out of sync. Therefore, with a lot of speech going on at once (such as in a dentist's office), this can be a case of sensory overload for your child and can be extremely distressing.
If the children's waiting room or general office is too noisy for your child to cope, try asking a member of staff on reception if you could wait elsewhere in the building for your child's appointment, i.e., a quiet spare room. If this isn't an option, help block out noise by giving your child earplugs or a music player/handheld gaming device with headphones.
Use stories and visual aids.
Children with autism face a large barrier in many social situations and this typically manifests itself in a fear of the unknown, but more specifically, a lack of understanding. Once your child understands the need for a dental visit and what occurs, they will be able to come to terms with the idea and may show fewer signs of distress on the day.
One of the best ways to prepare your autistic child for the realities of the dentist is to illustrate what the day will have in store for them, such as a children's story book, comic strips or infographics that can positively illustrate a trip to the dentist. For further help, an autism helpline can provide information on how to use comic strips and visual aids to best effect.
Bring along distractions and comforting tools.
Paediatric dentists will most likely have pleasant background music playing in their office or have their walls adorned with bright and cheery colours. But since this may not be enough to make your child feel at ease, however, it's wise to take some comforting items with you.
Your child needs to feel distracted from the strange sights, smells and sensations whilst in the dentist chair, so ensure you're prepared with things like...
- A favourite toy or comfort blanket.
- A sand timer or alarm to indicate your child's time in the chair.
- Ear plugs and sunglasses (a dentist may be able to provide these if you forget).
- A portable DVD player with your child's favourite video - this could be placed on a nearby chair or table (or held up by you), so long as your child can watch it and the dentist can do their job!
To help combat any anxiety in future visits, your child's dentist may be able to recommend specific toothpaste flavours and brush styles that your child can tolerate. They could also give your child a quick rundown of their dental tools at the appointment and encourage them to play with similar instruments (such as floss picks and dental mirrors) at home. This should give your child a sense of normality about dental visits and help ease their distress on return visits.
For more help, contact a professional dental office like The Happy Tooth Muswellbrook and ask about any helps or procedures they provide to create a comfortable atmosphere for children with autism.