April is Autism Awareness Month, but at West Maple Pediatric Dentist, we realize that awareness isn’t the problem. An estimated one in every 88 people live on the spectrum, meaning that you’re unlikely to meet someone who isn’t somewhat familiar with the issue. We know it exists. We know it comes with challenges. What we need is autism acceptance. Autism adjustments, visibility, and consideration.
We need professionals and specialists who understand the nuances of a child who needs the extra time, attention, and maybe a different approach.
Why Can’t You Just Sit Still?
You have found yourself dreading making appointments for your child. From haircuts to shoe fittings, being considerate of the sensory challenges of a child with autism takes knowledge and patience. Many professionals find it difficult to work with a child who has autism, and you find it difficult to know who you can trust to take the time needed, without judgement or added anxiety, to make your child feel comfortable.
Knowing that your child will find it especially difficult to sit still during a dental exam and any necessary treatments can mean that your child is missing some of their cleanings. After all, it takes days to recover from the overload, for both of you.
Our staff knows how difficult it is for a child with autism to sit still. We use a gentle touch, with permission, and take as many breaks as needed. We have made friends with families thriving under any number of special needs, and while the autism spectrum comes with its own unique challenges, we’re ready to meet your child where they are today.
Same Teeth, Different Problems
People with autism have proven to be born with comparable oral health to their non-autistic counterparts, but tend to experience decay and gum disease at a higher rate. The reasons for this include:
- Oral Sensitivity
- Contact Aversion Around the Mouth
- Dietary Impact
- Difficulty Performing Their Oral Health Routine (Fine motor skills needed for flossing, distraction from the task, compulsive brushing causing sensitivity and erosion of enamel)
- Difficulty Accessing Care (Finding professionals who understand the patient’s needs)
What Can We Do?
While you have worked to reach a point where your child can comfortably visit a familiar store, park, or Occupational Therapist’s office without reaching sensory overload, seeing your dentist only twice a year means your child doesn’t have the frequency needed to develop a routine or a coping mechanism for dealing with the sounds of other children, drills, or the constant touching involved in an exam. We want every appointment to be tear-free, and for your child to experience a dignified appointment, instilling in them trust for their dental team and a level of comfort with their oral care.
We Trust the Expert… And That’s You
There are a number of ways we can work together to make your child more comfortable with their appointment. It all starts with communication!
We could specialize in autism studies, and it still wouldn’t make us experts in YOUR child. Before scheduling your appointment, take some time to remember your child’s last dental exam. Think about when your child became triggered, and what eventually calmed them.
Write down as much as you can remember about which parts of your child’s appointment they felt comfortable with, and which parts caused issue. Was reclining the chair a trigger? Was it the lights? Was it when the child’s mouth was touched? Were they ok in the waiting room? Did they enjoy the music?
Once we understand where the appointment succeeds, and where it needs work, we have an opportunity to make more gentle transitions, and to plan ahead to make the unpleasant aspects as brief as possible.
If keeping a tablet playing within their sight will help keep their appointment stress-free, we will find a way to make it work! If they have a special toy or token, or if they find wearing headphones or earmuffs to be soothing, we are happy to accommodate. But this all starts by having a conversation with the person who understands your child the best.
Make a Realistic Plan
Your child’s first appointment may not include x-rays, a cleaning, and cavity filling. Instead, your child may need to come it, have a seat in the chair, attempt to recline, and demonstrate their own brushing skills. That might be all your child is up for on their first visit, and we will not push the issue. We will be grateful for the opportunity to earn their trust.
If your child has difficulty tolerating pain, or difficulty communicating their pain level, it could be in their best interest to consider sedation dentistry. This will give your child an opportunity to have a more relaxed appointment, and it gives us the opportunity to complete needed procedures without causing your child unnecessary anxiety.
We must ask that siblings and young children not be present in the sedation room, as your child will need and deserve all of our undivided attention. Parents, however, are welcome to stay and encourage their child, offering praise and comfort during the procedure.
We Will Do Our Best, And Our Best Will Keep Getting Better
None of our children come with manuals, but we do our best to write them as we go! With patience and understanding, we will figure out your child’s best options together. At West Maple, we understand and respect the journey parents of children with special needs are on every day, and we just want to tell you that you’re doing an amazing job!
Thank you for choosing West Maple Pediatric, your gentle dental experts!