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Treating Children With Autism: Tips for Doctors

Most people going to the dentist or doctor experience some level of anxiety or stress. If a child has autism (ASD), the level of this anxiety or stress typically increases. An autistic person is not only feeling sick, or has been injured when going to one of these offices, but they are being asked to go into an unfamiliar environment.

A doctor's office or hospital may have new smells, sounds, lights, and people. This environment may have a negative effect on them that is higher than the average person. The result may be demonstrated through maladaptive behaviors, anxiety and trouble coping. Behaviors can range from being silly, attempted elopement, loud vocalizations, and throwing a tantrum to having a full-blown meltdown.

Whichever effect the doctor's office or hospital has on them will be compounded by medical personnel interactions if they have not been trained to work with ASD individuals. There are unique characteristics of those with ASD and how they will perceive their environment. These are some strategies to use as a doctor to minimize the trauma a child with ASD will experience when visiting you for medical attention.

1. Priming

A child with ASD is less likely to experience stress or anxiety if they are able to preview activities before they are done. Priming is the method used to prepare your child with ASD and help promote a more consistent response. When you have reduced their stress and anxiety, the child will be able to focus more on completing activities.

Those with ASD do better with visual aids such as pictures that display what activities are going to happen. The pictures along with your narrative to describe the activities will substantially help them to be calmer.

2. Predicting

Once your child with autism has been primed, they will expect the event to happen just how you've explained or shown. Because procedures can change, it is important that predicting be a part of the routine shown. Ask your child with autism while priming questions such as, ' What if...' This question can be inserted into the pictures used during priming.

  • What if the doctor listens to your heart first before they take your temperature?

  • What if the doctor takes too long to come back to the room?

Predicting is a way for a child with ASD to increase their flexibility and find some semblance of routine during their medical visit.

3. Countdown

A countdown strip can be used during the medical visit so the child with ASD can visually understand the time involved with their visit. A simple form would be using numbers such as 5,4,3,2,1 and then a door or car to signify leaving. As a quick, one-time use, you can use a sheet of paper and cross off events as they are finished. This visual countdown of the office visit or procedure will help a child with ASD remain calmer during their appointment.

4. Wrap-Up

A wrap-up should have the appointment ending with a positive note. The wrap-up is a celebration of sorts that they have completed their visit and should include a favorite reinforcer that the child prefers. This fourth step is an essential one as a child with ASD successfully completing a medical visit has overcome a very challenging experience.

Where to Learn More About Treating Patients With Autism

ABA Pathways is committed to helping families and those working with individuals with ASD find a clear path to a brighter future. We offer evidence-based behavioral therapy for children and adults with ASD. If you have questions on how to make a medical appointment more comfortable and successful for your child, call and talk to one of our highly-trained specialists today.

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