Visiting the doctor can be a challenging experience for any child, and it can be particularly overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum. However, with proper preparation and support, parents can help their child navigate the doctor’s visit, waiting time there, and everything related to it smoothly.
Today, in this blog, I will discuss crucial do’s and don’ts for preparing your child for a doctor’s visit, ensuring a more positive and successful experience for everyone involved. I will also provide you with practical strategies and tips to prepare your child including familiarizing them with the doctor’s tools, electronic devices, and the room’s ambiance. So let’s get started.
1. Communicate, Explain and Prepare in advance: One of the essential steps in preparing your autistic child for a doctor’s visit is effective communication.
●Inform your child about the upcoming visit well in advance, using visual supports, social stories, or a visual schedule.
●Explain the purpose of the visit and what they can expect during the appointment.
●Familiarize them with the doctor’s office environment, if possible by showing YouTube videos and picture books. Start by explaining to your child why they need to visit the doctor and what to expect during the appointment.
●Use clear and concise language, visual aids such as social stories or picture schedules, and consider using visual timers to help them understand the duration of the visit.
2. Role Play: To help your child acclimatize to the doctor’s visit and be more at ease, consider and engage them in role-playing the experience at home.
●Pretend to be the doctor and demonstrate common procedures like checking temperature, listening to the heartbeat, or examining the eyes and ears in a play- way. If possible, use some familiar lines or dialogues from their favorite cartoon. This will help your child understand what to expect and reduce anxiety.
●Take turns playing the roles of the doctor, nurse, and patient. Use social stories or visual supports to depict the steps involved, allowing your child to become familiar with the process. To help your child become more comfortable with the doctor’s visit, engage in role-playing at home.
3. Create a Visual Schedule: Visual schedules can be immensely helpful for autistic children as they provide a structured and predictable sequence of events.
●Create a visual schedule specifically for the doctor’s visit, outlining each step from leaving the house to returning home.
●Include pictures or symbols representing the waiting room, doctor’s office, and various medical procedures.
●Refer to the schedule frequently to reinforce the routine and help your child understand the progress of the visit.
4. Sensory Preparation: Autistic children may have sensory sensitivities, so it is crucial to address any potential triggers before the visit. One can consider following points if they find strong aversions for public places in their child
●Visit the doctor’s office in advance to familiarize your child with the environment and its sensory aspects.
●Discuss with the staff any accommodations or modifications that can be made to create a more comfortable experience, such as dimming lights, reducing noise levels, or providing sensory toys or headphones.
5. Introduce Doctor’s Tools and Electronic Devices:Many autistic children can find medical instruments and electronic devices intimidating or overwhelming. Gradually introduce your child to these tools at home before the visit. For example, you can play pretend doctor using a stethoscope or show them pictures or videos of doctors using different medical tools. Encourage your child to explore and touch the instruments in a safe and controlled environment, helping to desensitize any potential fears or anxieties.
6. Choose the right doctor: Seek out healthcare professionals who have experience working with autistic individuals. They should be patient, understanding, and willing to make accommodations to meet your child’s needs. Consider asking for recommendations from other parents of autistic children or support groups.
7. Create a social story: Develop a personalized social story that explains the entire process of visiting the doctor. Use simple language and visual aids to illustrate each step. This will help your child anticipate and understand the sequence of events, reducing uncertainty.
8. Visual Supports for Waiting Time: Waiting can be challenging for any child, and it can be especially difficult for autistic children who may struggle with patience and uncertainty.
●Visual aids can be immensely beneficial for communication and comprehension. Create visual schedules or visual prompts to support your child during the visit. These can include pictures or icons representing different stages of the appointment or emotions they may feel.
●Use visual supports such as a timer or countdown app to help your child understand the waiting time.
●Bring along comfort items like their favorite toys, books, or headphones to provide a sense of security and distraction during the wait.
9. Prepare for Transitions: Transitioning from one activity to another can be particularly challenging for autistic children.
●Help your child prepare for the transitions during the doctor’s visit by using visual timers or countdowns.
●Give them advance warnings, such as “five more minutes until we finish” or “in two minutes, it’s time to move to the next room.” This will help your child anticipate and adjust to the changes, reducing anxiety and potential meltdowns.
10. Reinforce Positive Behavior: Throughout the visit, acknowledge and reinforce your child’s positive behavior and cooperation. Offer praise, rewards, or small incentives for their efforts, such as a favorite snack or a special activity they enjoy. Positive reinforcement will help create a positive association with the doctor’s visit and encourage your child
1. Don’t rush: Allow ample time for the visit, as rushing can increase stress levels for both you and your child. Plan ahead to avoid being in a hurry or feeling rushed during the appointment.
2. Avoid surprises: Be transparent about what will happen during the visit. Avoid surprising your child with unexpected procedures or tests without prior explanation, as this can lead to distress and meltdowns.
3. Don’t dismiss concerns: Respect and acknowledge any concerns or fears your child expresses about the doctor’s visit. Validate their feelings and provide reassurance. Ignoring or dismissing their worries may increase anxiety.
4. Avoid overwhelming waiting areas: Crowded or noisy waiting rooms can be overwhelming for autistic individuals. If possible, contact the doctor’s office in advance to discuss alternatives, such as scheduling appointments during less busy times or requesting a separate waiting area.
5. Don’t forget to communicate with the doctor: Inform the doctor about your child’s specific needs and challenges. Share any relevant information about their sensory sensitivities, communication preferences, or strategies that have worked well in the past. Collaborate with the doctor to ensure your child’s needs are met.
6. Don’t forget to debrief: After the visit, take the time to discuss the experience with your child. Acknowledge their efforts and reinforce positive aspects of the visit. Address any concerns they may have for future visits and offer reassurance based on their experience.
A brief story on Yuvaan’s latest Doctor’s visit
Two weeks back, I took my son Yuvaan to the doctor when he was suffering from diarrhea. Yuvaan is a well-prepared and socially adept child, comfortable in public places, including the doctor’s clinic. Thanks to the effort I put into preparing him for various social settings, including public places like a doctor’s clinic, he’s able to visit comfortably and cooperates during the check-up.
Regular visits to the doctor’s clinic, pretend- play and other mentioned tips above had familiarized him with the clinic environment. This proactive approach has always helped him feel at ease and made the visits less stressful for both of us.
On the day of the visit, Yuvaan was feeling totally unwell due to the symptoms of diarrhea. However, I had previously taken him a day before, to the doctor for diarrhea check-up.
As we entered the clinic, Yuvaan greeted the receptionist with a smile and responded politely when she asked for his name during checking his previous appointment details. It was heartening to see him behaving confidently in a medical setting.
While waiting for our turn, Yuvaan engaged himself in reading on the board nearby to keep him occupied, which helped distract him from any discomfort he might have been feeling. This is a self regulatory method he uses in every public place while waiting.
However, on this particular day, something unexpected happened, while playing at home in evening, Yuvaan hurt his knee, and as usual his immediate reaction is that he asks me to take him to the doctor and put some bandages on his “boo-boo” or to apply ointment or lotion or a band-aid.
Unbeknownst to me, Yuvaan associated that visit to the doctor with getting his knee examined and treated. As soon as we entered the doctor’s cabin, he confidently sat on the stool, greeted the doctor, and began explaining, “Doctor, look, I got hurt! I have a boo-boo. I stubbed my knee, and it’s all yellow, blue, and green now. Put some bandages. Fix my boo-boo.”
The doctor and nurse were taken aback by Yuvaan’s unexpected remarks, and they looked at him in shock. Had they responded, it would have been a delightful and engaging two-way conversation. However, I quickly clarified the situation to Yuvaan, informing him that the nurse would be the one to put the bandage on his knee. He promptly got up, went over to the nurse, and had a bandage applied to the injured area. Afterward, he returned to his seat, proudly declaring that he was feeling better. “Nurse fixed my boo-boo, I am feeling much better now” he confidently announced to me.
As I continued discussing Yuvaan’s diarrhea condition with the doctor, he couldn’t contain his excitement. On our way back to the main gate, he made sure to inform everyone we encountered in the corridor that he was feeling better and that he had received a bandage. His independent and articulate explanation of his injury and the subsequent resolution left me amazed. It was a remarkable accomplishment for a 5-year-old to handle such a situation independently with confidence and clarity.
Throughout the visit, Yuvaan demonstrated his ability to adapt to new environments and social settings. His cooperation and comfort in the doctor’s clinic made the experience smoother for both of us and helped the medical professionals provide the necessary care for his condition.
As a parent, it was gratifying to see the result of the efforts put into preparing Yuvaan for such situations. This incident reinforced the importance of familiarizing children with different environments, teaching them social skills, and building their confidence to navigate various situations comfortably.
Hope you enjoyed reading today’s blog. Do provide your valuable feedback and share it with others.
Author Shilpi Mayank Awasthi