Visits to the Doctor’s Office

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.

One example of a social story
  1. 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Grand Opening Extravaganza

What a wonderful last few weeks we have had at Spectrum Autism Services! We are so grateful for the Stafford community for welcoming us with open arms and for supporting the opening of our clinic!

In addition to providing one on one ABA therapy, our clinic, located at 35 Walpole St #204 in Stafford, Virginia, also offers both Full Day and Half Day Programs for children ages 2-5.

Our Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Registered Behavior Therapists, and certified teachers will develop individualized programs for your little one with ASD.

Halloween Costumes and Resources

Considering the number of details that go into planning for the holidays, we decided to give some additional resources as a follow up to our previous blog on Halloween Tips.


Sensory Friendly Costume Ideas

Halloween can be both exciting and overwhelming for our loved ones with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and that’s why we compiled a few costume ideas to help alleviate holiday induced anxiety. Our BCBAs and Behavior Techs at Spectrum have shared some of their favorite tips and tricks below:

  • Capes (avoiding masks is a good idea though)
  • Character hoodies/sweatshirts
  • Character Pajamas
  • Glow sticks (toss one in their treat bag or let them hold one to keep them visible, but simultaneously festive!)

By eliminating any additional irritants like scratchy fabrics, and avoiding face paint and masks, it decreases the amount of unnecessary stimulation that could be potentially night ending.

Other possible accessories:

Have a Halloween Count Down

Creating a calendar or countdown for Halloween can help emotionally prepare your loved one with ASD for the upcoming holiday. Talking about the holiday daily when marking the days on a calendar/countdown can remove the surprise of it.

Decorate Together

Having your child decorate the home with you can help them better understand the meaning behind the spooky decor. It can also prevent the fear of others’ decor when trick or treating. This will ultimately work as an additional step in preparing for the main event!


Feel free to comment with any Halloween informational tidbits of your own or ask questions in regards to costume ideas!




Kids with ASD and Interacting with Law Enforcement

A study published in February 2017 showed that nearly 20 percent of young people on the Autism spectrum have had a run-in with police by age 21, and about half of those by age 15. Some traits of people with ASD, from social anxiety, stimming, difficulty communicating and making eye contact, can resemble a police officer’s standard profile of a suspicious person. Add in the flashing lights, a loud siren or bullhorn, and it can be paralyzing for someone with autism, who may have extreme sensitivity to light, sound or touch.

Considering the behavioral misinterpretations of people who have ASD, we have a few recommendations for preparing your loved one with ASD for any possible future encounters. While we have done presentations to local law enforcement officers about engaging with a person who has ASD, and we can only hope other communities have as well, preparedness cannot hurt to go both ways.


Discuss The Job Duties of First Responders

An easy way to begin informing your loved one about law enforcement and first responders is to teach them their job duties. Having multiple conversations in this way can be proactive preparation.

Try repeatedly discussing the police/firemen’s indicating elements of their uniform (i.e navy attire with a silver badge) or vehicles (red truck) to pair with their duties. Making notecards for a matching game that identify the job function of the first responders could also be effective. Letting them know to not be wary but instead respectful could also be a good idea.

Taking your loved one to the actual police station or fire station would not just be a fun outing, but would also help solidify the memory of uniforms and vehicles of public servicemen in their mind.

If your loved one with ASD understands the duties of public servicemen and women, it can greatly minimize the confusion of why a person in uniform would be approaching them if that ever occurs.

Make an ASD Card

At Spectrum, we advocate making your child with ASD an identification card of sorts.

Notifications this card can include:

  1. Your loved one’s diagnosis
  2. His or her sensitivities
  3. A contact number for his or her Doctor
  4. A contact number for his or her legal guardians
  5. IEP accommodations (for school)

We omit the child’s name in case the card ever got lost. Nevertheless, this is a tactic we advise for students in school settings to carry and can be handy for public situations as well.

These options coupled with making sure your loved one can identify why a public serviceman would approach them could be extremely beneficial to prevent negative encounters with law officials.