Tips For Helping Children with Autism Navigate Doctors Appointments

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Autism is a developmental disability, but with early diagnosis and positive interventions, children on the autism spectrum can significantly improve their language skills, social engagement, and cognitive capacity over time. If you’re a parent of a special needs child with developmental delays, you’re probably already seeing a range of therapists and allied health practitioners for your child to help them along their progress journey. You’re probably also familiar with the stress that can sometimes accompany these doctors appointments. We’ve got some great tips to help you keep the stress down – for your child AND you!

One of the most significant hurdles for people on the spectrum is doctor’s appointments. Parents and caregivers of children with autism may struggle to take them to the doctor’s office for reasons such as:

  • The child may become overwhelmed and stims or tantrums in a public place
  • The child may have a hard time following directions or answering questions
  • The child may be afraid of being poked or prodded

Doctors can struggle with this behavior as well, which can lead to miscommunications, misdiagnosis and potential conflicts with parents. This article will provide tips on how to combat the issues that can arise from doctor appointments for people on the spectrum and some general tips for practitioners on how to work better with their special patients.

7 Tips for Parents on Helping Children with Autism Navigate Doctors’ Appointments

1. Make a Plan For How to Handle Meltdowns

Most people on the spectrum have difficulty with change. When faced with an overwhelming or unfamiliar environment such as a doctor’s office, it’s not uncommon for meltdowns to occur due to stress. 

If your child is prone to meltdowns, have a plan in place for how you will handle the situation. Perhaps you could bring along a set of headphones, a tablet or stress/fidget toys to help them calm down.

2. Talk About the Appointment Beforehand

Many children on the spectrum are auditory learners, meaning they learn best through listening. One way to help prepare them for their appointment is to talk about it beforehand. Describe what will happen during the appointment, what the doctor will look for, and what questions they may ask.

3. Try To Be Patient

Patience is probably the most important thing parents and caregivers can do when taking a child to the doctor, especially if that child has autism. It’s important to remember that appointments can be overwhelming and stressful for children on the spectrum.

Try to be patient during the appointment, tolerate outbursts of frustration, communicate with your child openly and honestly about what will happen at the doctor’s office.

4. Establish a Routine

One way to help prepare a child with autism for a doctor’s appointment is to establish a routine leading up to it. If you can, try to take your child for a practice run to the office so they can become familiar with the surroundings.

Many children on the spectrum respond well to schedules and routines, so be consistent in your preparations for the appointment.

5. Bring along Distractions

A child with autism may become overwhelmed during a doctor’s appointment, especially when unfamiliar with what is happening. To help ease this, bring along some distractions to keep them calm and focused. Toys, books, handheld games, and other fun items can help keep a child’s mind off what is happening during the appointment.

6. Arrive Early

When possible, try to arrive early for your appointment. It will give you and your child a chance to relax and get comfortable in the office before the doctor arrives. If you are running late, call ahead, so the doctor knows to expect you.

7. Communicate On Any Treatments

If your child is on medication or is undergoing a treatment plan, they should understand what is happening. Speak to the doctor about how best to explain the treatment plan to your child and make sure they are comfortable with it.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask the doctor or their staff.

6 Tips For Practitioners on How to Work Better With Patients On the Spectrum

1. Take the Time to Get to Know the Child

When meeting with a new patient on the spectrum, take the time to get to know them. You can ask questions about their interests, favorite activities, and family life to help you better understand how to communicate with and treat that child.

2. Use Visual Aids and Distractions

One of the best ways to engage with a child on the spectrum is through visual aids. Try using pictures, diagrams, or charts whenever possible to understand what you are saying better.

Try to talk about things that will capture their attention, and be sure to use any distractions such as toys or games available in the office.

3. Keep Communication Simple and Direct

When speaking to a child on the spectrum, keep your communication straightforward. Use concise sentences and avoid using complex medical terminology that the child may not understand.

If you don’t have time to explain something fully, follow up with the parents to ensure they understand.

4. Remain Calm and Patient

Children with autism can often sense when a caregiver is anxious or frustrated. It’s essential to remain calm and patient during the appointment, as this will help ease the child’s stress.

If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break if possible or ask another staff member for help.

5. Communicate with the Parents

When working with a child on the spectrum, it’s essential to keep the parents informed and involved. Let them know what you are doing and why, especially if they will be administering any medication or treatment at home.

Regular check-ins with the parents throughout the appointment can help ensure everyone is on the same page.

6. Give Your Patients Time to Respond

Some children on the spectrum may be slow to respond verbally during an appointment. It does not necessarily mean they do not understand what is happening. Give them time to process the information and respond in their own way.

Remember that each child on the spectrum is unique and will respond to doctor’s appointments differently. With patience and understanding, you can make the experience a little bit easier for both you and your child.

To learn more about working better with patients on the spectrum or with special needs, sign up for my course or contact us today. I will go over everything you need to know to help make your interactions smoother and more successful.

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