Routine Appointments Are Not Routine for Young People with Autism
Many of us may not like to go to the dentist or the doctor, but we go and for the most part, it is pretty routine. However, for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) an everyday situation like a regular appointment can be a struggle. While the challenges associated with these visits can vary from person to person, as ASD is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of presentations and individual differences, many encounter the same struggles.
Routine Visits Can Be Hard for Individuals with Autism
- Many individuals with ASD experience sensory sensitivities, meaning they may have heightened or reduced sensitivity to specific sensory inputs. The bright lights, loud noises, unfamiliar smells, and different textures commonly found in dental offices, medical clinics, and hair salons can be overwhelming and distressing for individuals with sensory sensitivities. This can lead to anxiety, discomfort, and difficulty in managing the sensory overload.
- Those with ASD often find it challenging to adapt to changes in routine or new environments. The dental office, doctor’s clinic, or hair salon may be unfamiliar settings with different expectations and procedures. The lack of predictability and routine can cause anxiety and make it difficult to understand and navigate these situations.
- ASD is characterized by social communication difficulties, which can make it hard to understand and interpret social cues, express their needs and preferences, or engage in small talk. Interacting with dental or medical professionals, who may ask questions, use unfamiliar vocabulary, or expect certain social behaviors, can be stressful and confusing.
- Some children, teens, and young adults with ASD have difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication skills. They may struggle to express their pain, discomfort, or preferences verbally, making it challenging for dental professionals, doctors, or hair stylists to understand and provide appropriate care. Limited eye contact, facial expressions, or body language can also affect effective communication and rapport building.
- Individuals with ASD often experience higher levels of anxiety and fear due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of new situations. They may have difficulty anticipating what will happen during dental procedures, medical examinations, or haircuts, leading to heightened anxiety and resistance.
How Can Parents Help Their Child Overcome These Challenges?
With appropriate preparation and practice, individuals with ASD can develop coping strategies to make these situations more manageable and less stressful. Helpful strategies for parents to try include:
- Create a Visual – Creating visual schedules or social stories that outline the steps involved in the appointment helps them grasp and anticipate what will happen during the visit, reducing anxiety and providing a sense of structure.
- Ease In – Gradually exposing a child to the sensory aspects of the experience helps desensitize them and can reduce their anxiety. For example, start by having them sit in a dental chair or hair salon chair without any procedures being done. Then slowly introduce the sound of the tools or the sensation of having their hair touched.
- Act it Out – Going through the motions of an appointment at home or in a familiar environment helps them remain calm and comfortable. Try taking turns playing the roles of the dentist, doctor, or hairdresser. Through role-playing, you can simulate the experience and practice appropriate behaviors, such as sitting still or opening your mouth for the dentist.
- Schedule Smart – Begin with scheduling short and less intense appointments. Then, when the child is ready, gradually increase the duration and complexity over time. This incremental approach allows the individual to build confidence and tolerance for the experience as they gain new skills.
- Communicate Well – Communicating any specific sensory needs or accommodations for the location to be mindful of will help everyone be prepared. For example, some individuals with ASD may benefit from wearing noise-canceling headphones, having a weighted blanket, or using a vibrating tool to desensitize their mouth before dental work.
- Encourage & Reward – Use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, tokens, or preferred items and activities to reward the child or teen. This strategy can work before, during, or after the appointment. Rewards can also help create positive associations with these experiences.
Judson Center Autism Connections Helps Build Life Skills
Every child, teen, and young adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is distinct, and strategies that work for one may not be effective for another. At Judson Center‘s Autism Connection’s Life Skills Lab, our dedicated professionals provide personalized guidance to clients, helping them prepare for routine appointments based on their specific challenges.
Our Life Lab rooms are designed to simulate real-life scenarios and include:
- A dental room with a real dental chair, lighting, and tray setup
- A medical exam room including a real examination table, eye exam tools, weight scale, and other medical equipment
- A barbershop or hair salon room equipped with a barber chair, brushes, combs, and sink
- A realistic waiting room so all phases of the appointment can be practiced
We Help Clients Gain Important Skills for Real Life
To serve each individual’s unique sensory needs, our highly trained Autism Connections staff utilize these rooms to prepare clients for their appointments. Many parents and caregivers have shared remarkable success stories of their children feeling empowered to confidently participate in these routine appointments.
Learn more about the Autism Connections Life Lab and how we can help prepare individuals with ASD for everyday appointments.
Judson Center’s Autism Connections is a preferred provider for diagnostics and early intervention. We have immediate daytime openings available at several locations.
We can help prepare for the school year. Autism Connections offers transportation to and from school, and works collaboratively with administrators and teachers to help guide and formulate your child’s IEP.
Contact us today to learn more about Autism Connections. Or call to discuss the unique needs of your child so we can support them in our Life Skills Lab. Contact Rhia at (248) 837-2031.