Autistic children must often regularly visit a pediatrician, but these kids sometimes struggle to cope with the experience. Children with autism generally struggle with sensory experiences, so the intimacy of a pediatric appointment can create extreme stress that parents may find it hard to deal with. The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to help your child cope with the experience. Here are five of them.
Develop a sensory diet for your child
A sensory diet is actually nothing to do with what your child eats and drinks. This term refers to an activity plan that helps children get the right amount of physical and mental stimulation every day. Every child's needs are different, and autistic children generally have very specific issues. For example, some autistic children are hyposensitive, which means you need to introduce lots of sensory experiences to help them develop normal reactions.
A healthy sensory diet will improve all aspects of an autistic child's life, but certain activities can help him or her cope with the anxiety of a visit to the doctor. For example, a warm, quiet bath will often relax a child who is nervous about his or her appointment. Look online for tips and ideas about what to include in your autistic child's sensory diet.
Choose a good appointment time
Sometimes, it's the simplest details that make all the difference. If your child needs emergency treatment, you need to get the next possible appointment, but in any other situation, aim for a time that suits your child.
For example, an early appointment time may mean that there are fewer people in the waiting area when you arrive. This can help settle your child. Crowds can cause more anxiety. Conversely, an early appointment may interfere with your child's normal sleep routine, so you may prefer to choose a time nearer lunchtime.
Prepare your child with social stories
Autistic children respond well to social stories, which describe certain everyday situations in a fun, educational way. You can use these stories before and after different occasions, including a visit to the doctor. Take time to go through a social story with your child some time before his or her first appointment, answering and asking questions to help him or her fully understand what to expect.
Talk to the pediatrician before the appointment
A trained pediatrician will understand how the appointment can affect an autistic child, but you can still take time to talk to the doctor about specific challenges or problems your child has. This conversation is a good opportunity to share information that may take up valuable time during the real appointment. What's more, the pediatrician can often reassure your child more effectively if he or she doesn't need to ask so many questions. This type of preparation can also help the pediatrician adapt his or her approach. For example, the doctor could dim the lights or play a certain type of music.
Run practice sessions at home
You can prepare an autistic child for a visit to the doctor with a 'practice' session at home. Here, you can take the opportunity to show and describe some of the things that may happen during the appointment. For example, you could use a toy doctor's kit to show your child what a stethoscope looks and feels like and to explain how the pediatrician may use the instrument.
Autistic children don't always respond well to the sensation of a doctor's couch or examination table, so it's also a good idea to find a way to recreate this experience at home. Use a reclining garden chair if you can, or simply lay a rug on the table to talk to your child as he or she lies down. Try to practice for 15 or 20 minutes, to help your child see how quickly the appointment will pass. You may need several sessions before your child's first appointment.
A pediatric appointment can bombard an autistic child's senses, causing anxiety and stress. Good preparation can help avoid these problems, but you should talk to your pediatrician for more advice. You can click here for more information on pediatric services in your area.