Medical visits can be stressful for any child, but for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a visit to the doctor can become downright dreadful. Children with ASD are often uncomfortable with unfamiliar places and people and have a hard time adjusting to the unexpected, making medical offices very frightening. The child can become very upset, even physically resisting the experience and the caregiver can leave feeling sad, frustrated, or embarrassed (although they shouldn’t be!).
There are some offices are working hard to make their spaces more friendly to children with ASD. This might include flexible scheduling, so that the child arrives at a time when the office is quiet. They may have a separate space for waiting that is friendlier to children with special needs or an exam room that is specifically designed for children with different sensory needs. Medical staff can be trained to respond to the needs of children with ASD. Allowing extra time for transitions, explaining what is about to happen with visual cue cards and speaking in a calm soft relaxed voice can also be helpful.
Caregivers can help by offering storyboards to the child ahead of the visit. All children, but in particular children with ASD, are more comfortable when in familiar settings, so showing a child pictures of the office, physician, even staff can help a child feel safe on arrival to the setting. Using the same group for both routine physical exams and sick visits allows the child to become familiar with the setting.
Bringing along a child’s favorite comfort object can also be useful. Some parents even check out the office first, without their child, to make sure there are not any triggers that might be upsetting such as loud music or televisions. Lastly, giving ample time is key. Children with ASD need time to process new spaces and new people, so arriving a bit early and making sure you don’t have to rush off to another appointment can help a child who is upset, have time to settle.
- Caregivers of children with ASD are encouraged to reach out to your pediatrician’s office to let them know how to make the child’s experience better.
- Medical offices should accommodate children with ASD as much as possible by providing alternate communication tools and alternative settings.
- Children with ASD need time to process new experiences, so giving yourself ample time for a visit will help them feel calm and settled.