Many of us cringe at the very thought of visiting the dentist.
The smells, the noise of the drill, the fact that you find it hard to swallow with a finger poking into your mouth - whatever the reason it is hard for most of us to endure, but for people on the autism spectrum this can be an especially challenging experience. This may be as a result of the type of fear and anxiety that many people experience. Added to this some individuals on the autism spectrum may experience heightened anxiety as a result of factors such as:
The smells, the noise of the drill, the fact that you find it hard to swallow with a finger poking into your mouth - whatever the reason it is hard for most of us to endure, but for people on the autism spectrum this can be an especially challenging experience.
The following outlines things to think about when supporting a child or adult to access dental treatment. It is based on the experience accumulated when working with individuals and their families.
Organisation and advanced planning will help to build structure and predictability to the visit. Some things to consider are:
Creating predictability can enable the person to understand the process of the what, when and how of the visit. Communicating this information in a way that is accessible for the person should be taken into account when planning in order to alleviate anxieties.
Structuring the visit through a sequence of events will help to build up the big picture of things. This can avoid a situation where the person focussing on the fine details whilst failing to make connections to the process. They may, for example, become fixated on the level of the chair or the light from the lamp above their head etc.objects, pictures or social stories (http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories) can be used to draw the person’s attention to each step of the way and transition both to and from the dentist building should be carefully considered. Photographs and maps can be used to help link events.
A search for resources that are already available will mean you won’t have to reinvent the wheel but bear in mind that resources may need adapted to suit individual needs and may also need personalised so they are motivating and engaging for the person.
Developing an individualised toolkit can be helpful; this can be added to over time as engagement with the dentist may change from routine checkups to needing treatment.
The toolkit could also be used to inform the Dentist of the individual profile of the person in order for them to adapt accordingly. Again your knowledge of the individual will help you decide how to work along with the Dentist to support the best outcome for the person. For example if the Dentist is aware the person has an interest in talking about transport or football or whatever this is a positive way to engage and distract to help put people at ease.
More specific information may be needed depending on the persons preferred means of communication including any visual communication tools such as symbols or schedules.
Some people on the autism spectrum tend to think in a very literal way and this needs consideration; be factual and try not to use language with more than one meaning or augment information with objects or pictures to clarify. The earlier you can start dental visits with young children the better and introducing their favourite play characters can help model what is required.
Some other things to consider are:
Dental treatment may be available not only from your high street dentist. People with special needs can register with their local NHS Community or Salaried Dental Service. This service can provide routine care and emergency treatment and will respond if a general dentist cannot respond. Through this service, in some areas it may also be possible to access a service at home, if the person is unable to access a dental surgery.
Good luck and smile ...you have been to the dentist
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