Access for Autism
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Today is World Autism Awareness Day 2019, and only this morning I saw somebody giving out about a child wearing his headphones at the deli counter in a petrol station because it was "rude". A lot of people have a lot of things going on in their world, and you can't possibly dream of appreciating what could be one persons coping strategy for dealing with noise and crowds and the normal bustle that we are all used to. A child I know to be a great (well behaved) young lad who has Apsergers.
Dental visits for a child or family member who has different requirements than other patients can provide a great challenge to all involved. The greatest barrier for the family would be the perceived lack of knowledge of the healthcare professional, and the possibility that the visit in itself could traumatic to their family member. For the dental professional, there is an anxiety that we would not provide the adequate environment to help to ensure a comfortable stress free visit for the patient or their families.
For years the medical and dental profession have fumbled around without any great success and have invariably failed to treat people with autism spectrum disorders with the kind of care and compassion that they would normally. The eighties and nineties invariably saw most patients referred to specialist centers, or dentists neglecting the oral condition leading to tooth loss or dental pain.
The most recent changes to best practice in the dental setting mean that now we appreciate much more that because of the nature of autism and the spectrum of similar disorders and their nature means that we can't prescribe a one size fits all treatment protocol that will work for everyone.
Within our practice we have a storybook which is personalised for Expressions, that is designed to help young children and people with autism to get acclimatised to the sorts of processes, smells and sensations, even tastes that they may experience. This might be of some use for people to take home and use as a (pretty dull) bed time story, but for what percentage of children is this going to be useful? 20%? 40%?
It's hard to know, that's why we would recommend anyone who is attending, or thinking of attending speaks to us for a pre-care assessment first. We would like to know what time of day suits you best, what impact, sounds and lighting may have. For some families a totally normal appointment in the middle of the day would be perfect, with no major changes to the clinical environment. For others appointments at the start or end of the day, with dimmed lighting, rhythmic soothing music (or no music at all) would be better. We won't know what works for you until we have had the pre-care assessment. Often the parents/family will have well tried and tested techniques at home that we can adapt or utilise to help make visiting the dentist as normal for them as possible.
The earlier we can see the child/family member then the earlier we can start to bond and build a relationship, as with anyone it is very hard to build trust and a caring relationship quickly, and we certainly don't want their first visit to be the one where they are already in pain and discomfort. Desensitizing somebody for a dental procedure can take a long time, and we don't want to rush building a long-term relationship.
Feel free to email us and discuss any of your concerns or thoughts with us o firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, take the time to stop and think about whether your office or work space would be friendly and welcoming to a child or an adult with autism, or would it pose an assault on their senses. Think about trying to minimize the impact of these problems on a portion of the population whose difficulties in life may be hidden, they will not want to justify their medical background to you in front of people in the queue in the local petrol station.