Most of us don’t look forward to doctor’s appointments! Even the promise of a sticker or lollipop may not be enough to overcome our fears. Now, imagine you experience feelings of intense anxiety when confronted with new people and places, have sensory processing difficulties, and trouble communicating. These added hurdles can make a doctor’s visit especially daunting for kids with ASD and their parents.
Living in the time of COVID-19, it has become increasingly important to prepare ourselves and our children for interactions with health care providers. Below you will find a few strategies we use to prepare children and families for upcoming visits.
- Social Stories
What are they? Social stories are a fun and creative way to teach kiddos new skills and prepare them for upcoming events. Basically, they are how-to manuals for children with ASD.
Tips for Success
The more you read the more you know. By going over the story on the days and weeks leading up to the visit, your child will have a better understanding of what to expect. This will help decrease anxiety and reduce the likelihood of tantrums and meltdown.
Bring the social stories or other helpful visuals with you to the doctor’s office! Many children with ASD benefit from visual explanations more than verbal. Plus, what better way to generalize what was learned then by reading the story again during the appointment. Following the story as the appointment progresses will help prepare the kiddo for whatever comes next.
There are many examples of social stories that can be used and here are some we recommend:
- Doctor Kit
The best way to prepare your child for the unexpected is to practice what is expected! One of our favorite ideas is to play with a toy doctor kit. Bonus, this is also a great way to work on those pretend play skills! The more you play, the better prepared they will be for the actual visit. Remember to make it fun!
Tips for Success
Act out likely scenarios, for example:
- Put on the stethoscope and pretend you are listening to your child’s favorite stuffed animals’ heartbeat.
- Use the blood pressure cuff on the family pet and show that even animals can be a part of the fun.
- Practice using a tongue depressor. First, eat a piece of candy (keep the color a secret). Then, have the child use the tool to investigate and determine the color.
Take turns being the doctor and patient. Remember to be brave when they give you that shot!
If there are other children in the home, get them involved too. Children are more comfortable with people they know. Practicing with familiar people in familiar places will make this less scary in a real-world scenario.
- Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce
Going to the doctor’s office is scary for most children, but remember, practice makes progress… not perfect. Some appointments will be harder than others.
- Break up the visit into smaller, reinforceable steps such as playing quietly in the waiting room or standing on the scale.
- After each step, reinforce, whether that means providing praise such as Good Job! or rewarding them with a piece of candy.
- Make the visit a positive experience. Sing songs or bring a game to play with them while waiting.
- Remember that your child accomplished something just by walking into the door of that office!
We hope these suggestions take some of the stress out of upcoming doctor’s appointments! Be sure to grab an extra lollipop or sticker on the way out of the office. You deserve a pat on the back for being brave too.