This week Angel had two doctors’ visits and let’s just say that each one was an emotional roller coaster for him and for us. Honestly, Angel hates going to the doctor and this includes going to his pediatrician who has treated him since birth.
So what can doctors do to help autistic children have an easier time at an appointment?
- Be willing to think outside the box. Angel gets anxious at the sight of any doctor’s examination table. I love that his pediatrician is willing to come out to the waiting area to take his temperature and do as much as she can without forcing him into her office. Of course there are times when we still need to go into her office but her willingness to meet him halfway makes a big difference.
- Make your office more child-friendly. I have been to some doctors’ offices and they were just too sterile. Having a playful and welcoming environment can go a long way in calming a child who may be anxious and scared. Investing in some cool toys, books, and a television playing children’s shows can also help. This also extends to the examination room. Your office should make a child want to go in. I know some doctors who even wear a fun tie and some who put a cool picture up on their wall. This tells a child that this is a nice person. Maybe I should let him look inside my ear or take my blood pressure.
- Be patient, compassionate, and empathetic. A child can sense when someone does not care. A parent can sense when their child is just a name on a chart. Showing patience, compassion, and empathy can help to make an anxious situation better for the child and his or her parents. It may take you a little longer to conduct your examination. Be patient and ready for this possibility. Be compassionate if the child is scared and refuses to let you touch her. Some children may also have sensory processing issues. Be empathetic with the child and the parents. Know that the child may be afraid and his parents are already on edge because they have been down this road before and they are hoping that just once they can get through a visit meltdown-free.
- Take cues from the parent on how to calm their child during a meltdown. When a child with autism is having a meltdown, this is not the time to be abrasive with the parent and try to rush through an examination. This could be the moment that the parent needs you to put down your stethoscope and offer a hand. The parent may share a tip that they use to calm their child down. Respect what they say and honor it. You may also need to step back and let the parent help the child through this moment. As a last resort, the parent may need to reschedule the appointment. Show some understanding. If you know that you did not get to conduct much of your examination, give the parent a break on the bill. I know that your time is valuable but a discounted bill will go a long way especially since some of you do not take insurance.
- Train your staff to be more sensitive to children with special needs and their families. A good experience at the doctor begins from the time the family enters the waiting area. Train your staff to also be patient, kind, and empathetic. Help them understand more about children with special needs and the unique challenges families may face when they bring their child to the doctor.
What else can doctors do to make your children have a more pleasant visit? Share your tips in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.