In retrospect, the dentist appointment failed before we entered the room.
This time will be different. He's older. His anxiety is more controlled. These thoughts jostled my already rattled nerves.
"Aim for the garbage!" the assistant yelled as my son threw up on her. "Well, I got half his teeth counted," she said sympathetically.
"Sorry," I mumbled as we left, defeated.
For children with special needs, medical appointments can be challenging. These office visits are outside their normal routines and contain unfamiliar people and places and scary instruments. By working with health-care providers, you can help your kids handle the unexpected smells, tactile sensations, noises and bright lights. Here are some suggestions I've found helpful:
Inquire who would be best suited to treat your child. You might say, "Though I know all your staff members are talented, I'm searching for the most playful and patient professional." An assistant, not the primary practitioner, may be better able to provide the time and attention your child needs.
Discuss your child's needs with office staff before the visit. For example, a strong gag reflex isn't new to most dental staff, but it helps to be prepared. If your child dislikes you talking about them, write your concerns and point to them instead of speaking aloud. (At the top of the list: "My child doesn't do well if we talk about her.") Kids with auditory sensitivities might benefit from noise-canceling headphones. For visual sensitivities, many offices offer sunglasses. (Ask in advance or bring your own.)
Consider a brief pre-visit to familiarize your child with the building, which will help with transitions and changes in routine. Don't be disappointed if the staff doesn't have time to chat during this visit.
Help prepare your child in advance. Check out kid-friendly books about medical or dental exams. View age-appropriate YouTube videos. Some doctors will demonstrate each procedure on a doll, while a pediatric dentist might allow your child to hold a mirror so he or she can better see what is happening.
When possible, schedule appointments at the least busy time, and bring a favorite toy to help distract your child during procedures.
Pray with your child right before the visit. Use Scripture that speaks of God's reassuring presence and ability to calm fears, such as Isaiah 41:10.
When children with special needs are properly prepared and their fears adequately addressed ahead of time, medical appointments often run more smoothly for everyone.Heather Roberts is a mother of four. She has a doctorate in occupational therapy with an emphasis in pediatrics.