Autism is a developmental disorder that affects one in every one thousand children. This disorder is more likely to affect boys than girls. Symptoms associated with Autism vary greatly and this is why dentists and other health care professionals need to make special considerations when treating children that are autistic. For example:
Many autistic children never develop proper verbal skills and this can make getting to proper diagnosis more challenging. Lack of eye contact is another symptom that will make it difficult for dentists to have the patients’ attention for long periods of time.
Physical contact, especially from strangers, is something that some autistic children will not like. In addition to physical contact, some children are ultra-sensitive to sounds, smells and bright lights, making routine dental visits challenging.
A daily routine is very important for autistic children and a new experience may cause stress and anxiety.
A few tips for parents when preparing a dental visit with your autistic child:
- Unless the office has their own, bring along a portable DVD player so you can play your child’s favorite movie to keep them calm and distracted.
- If you know that your child is sensitive to loud noises and bright lights, bring a pair of earplugs as well as sunglasses for them.
- Speak with the health care professional before the appointment to have a clear understanding of the office procedures. Also, ask any questions that you feel necessary to ensure the comfort of your child.
- Support the dentist/doctor in charge. Be a reassuring figure to your child, but have a passive attitude while the exam is being conducted.
- Be sure to follow the dental hygiene methods that your dentist may suggest.
Important tips for parents when in the dental office:
- Allow your child to tour the office and perhaps touch the equipment to let him or her get familiarized with the office
- They may need to travel with a favorite blanket or toy for comfort, so don’t tell them they can’t hold a particular item that they are fond of
- Give the dentist tips about your child and how they respond best
- Make the first appointment a positive, although short, experience
- avoid crowding your child, approach them in a quiet and friendly manner
- Talk calmly and use short, direct phrases when speaking to an autistic child. (avoid using words that have double meanings because they may be taken literally)
- Allow your child to sit in the exam chair so they can be accustomed to the exam setting and the surrounding environment.
- Explain, in terms that are easily understood, exactly what you are going to do next. Ask the hygienists and dentist to do the same.
- Tell your autistic child why and where you are going to touch them, especially when you are using a medical instrument.
- Use a bright light during the exam only when absolutely necessary.
- Hold your child’s hand as this may increase their comfort level.
- Mild sedation on young autistic children may be necessary to effectively complete the dental treatment.