Tips to Make Your Trip to the Dentist a Success

Today we took a trip about an hour away to see a dentist who has a way with children like my daughter. While not a special needs practice, the Newton Sparta Pediatric Dentistry Practice, lead by Dr. Mike is welcoming and a great place to take any children who may be overwhelmed by a trip to the dentist. That being said, as parents, especially of children with additional needs, there are ways we can better prepare our children for a successful visit.

Yesterday night as we flossed my daughters teeth, a tooth broke. Immediately I began to panic. Taking my now seven year old daughter to the dentist has been nothing short of overwhelming so as I mulled over what may happen, I decided I needed a plan of attack.

I was grateful that a wonderful dentist in town suggested calling Dr. Mike and I did so, last night and again first thing when my daughter had difficulty eating. It is so important, as a parent to trust your child’s medical practitioners. When our local dentist suggested that my daughter may need to see a pediatric dentist, I trusted her. Completely. We had experience with Dr. Mike last year as he did surgery on my daughter. While that experience was a challenge for both she and I, the way we were treated by Dr. Mike gave me reassurance that he would do his best to support Seraphina in his office and if we HAD to go to the OR, he was our guy!

In order to make this visit as pain free as it could be, I knew as a parent I needed to do my best to support her for her own success and our dentist so he could do his job.

Here are a few tips to make your child’s dental visit a success:

First, talk. Verbal or not, children need to know. I have learned with my other kids that when they are surprised at medical visits its upsetting. I told Seraphina exactly why we were going to the dentist and reminded her that the dentist was there to help her. In our conversation, I talked about how dentists help others and that even though they are Community Helpers, it is okay to have feelings surrounding trips to the doctor or dentist but no matter what I would be with her and she would be safe. For many kids, anxiety can manifest in behaviors that can limit the care a child can receive in office. If you have more time, you may consider creating a social story to share with your child to talk about our visit.

Next, we watched a couple videos online about dentists helping children. This supported the narrative that dentists are there to help and safe and allowed her to visibly see children being helped by dentists, even if the dentist wasn’t our own.

Then Seraphina and I planned it out. Together.

The plan consisted of talking about the type of behavior we wanted to have, what she may experience and what she could expect after the visit. For Seraphina, anxiety can be a trigger and when she feels anxious aggressive behaviors can follow so an action plan with a reward at the end made her feel more confident in the visit. We also checked out the website of the office online so she knew exactly what she would see, including the photo of the dentist who would be taking care of her.

When we talked rewards, she immediately knew she wanted a Blue’s Clue’s Toy and remembered it was at Target. I found a picture of the toy, printed it out photo, laminated it and cut it out to a size that was comfortable so she could hold it, easily reminding her what she was working for.

Right before we left, I made sure she used the bathroom in a comfortable space and was in comfortable clothing. I also packed a basket of items that may bring her comfort. Inside I had a weighted lap pad, a few small trinkets to keep her hands busy, a body sack, the picture of the toy and a couple small trinkets she could earn in a pinch.

When we arrived at the dentist, I waited until it was almost time for our appointment, looking like Red Riding Hood we stepped out of the car and headed to the office. I reminded her of what would happen and how we would behave and of course what she could earn. Lucky for me, the office was on time. Waiting until it was almost the appointment time gave her enough time to explore the office but not too much time that she may feel anxious.

Once inside, it was apparent the assistant they selected for us was kind, understanding and supportive. She even told me it was okay NOT to show her the broken tooth so that we could save Seraphina’s energy for the doctor. I let the doctor and assistant know what we were working for and all the medications she was on. The dentist used his own knowledge of Blue’s Clues and between the three of us we knew we had a mission and we were in it together. For me, being supportive of the medical professionals working is yet another key component to success so being their extra hands is one way to ensure a better experience. My job, as a parent, was to keep Seraphina calm. I held her hands so that she felt safe and supported. She rested comfortably with her lap pad and indicted that she was going to “take a nap”.

About fifteen minutes after we walked into the office, we were done. That tooth that had been a bother was successful filled and both Seraphina and I felt better for it. As we headed out the door and onto our “shopping trip” as Seraphina called it, I felt sincere joy that we worked with a dedicated and supportive team to achieve her best results.So the next time you head to a visit at a dentist or doctor with your child, set yourself up for success.

  1. Talk About It
  2. Visualize It
  3. Make a Plan, Including the Positive End Results
  4. Pack for Success, Include Items That Will Make Your Child More Comfortable
  5. Arrive JUST on Time, Not Too Early and NOT Late, Rushing Never Made Anyone Feel Good
  6. Be Supportive of Your Practitioner
  7. Follow Through With The Reward

Could You Be An Angel?

I know you see me, trying to look put together while I enter into a place of worship with a brood of ducklings following behind. I am sure you see me gently guiding my child, by hand and shoulder, prompting her to genuflect, to stand, to sit and kneel.

Perhaps you have been an onlooker watching as she talks or colors or refuses to kneel. Perhaps you wonder why this child, seemingly “normal” and well into the age where behaviors at church should be gone still has a bag, or a treat now and again to keep her quiet in the pew. Perhaps you wish we weren’t there, our big family. I know, its hard. Its easy to see a child who has visible needs and feel compassion and empathy but with a silent disability, one that is unseen, so often we jump to judgement.

Its hard not to judge. I don’t fault the judgement. Looking at our family walking into church, it appears we have it together-well, most days. A mother, a father and five kids, all together at Mass weekly. I want you to know I don’t judge you for judging my daughter because truth is, I have been you. Before I wore the shoes I do, I looked, perhaps glared when my time at Church was interrupted by what I deemed as poor behavior. Perhaps I judged when your child had an iPad and ear phones, at church. Maybe I questioned why your child, who seemed far too old sat with a drink or even worse, a snack.

I’ll admit it. I didn’t get it and armed with what I know now I wish I could go back, to say I was sorry for the stares and the glares but now, standing on the other side I realize often judgement comes from what we do not understand.

For our family, even on difficult days, we want to bring our children to our faith. Being present in front of our Heavenly Father, as a family once a week holds this family together and when he’s absent, his absence is seen in our actions within our entire family.

Today though, today, this church service was different. I could tell you the times we have been asked to leave or the times when we’ve been glared and stared at but today, today something happened that shook me to the core.

Inside her world, she knows what she wants and what she needs. It is my job to learn to understand how to help her be her best self.

A stranger was kind.

Simple as that statement is, what she did for me today meant more than she could ever imagine. Today, unbeknownst to me, I grabbed the wrong bag of markers on the way into church. As my daughter felt overwhelmed she escalated and the quiet Parish that was prayerful and reverent resonated with shouts and frustration, I tried to coax my daughter out of the pew to leave with as little disturbance as possible but it felt as if all eyes and ears fell on her. I felt as small as one could and my steady breathing was all I had to focus on to get out as fast as possible- without my own crying.

As we walked out I averted my eyes from others and I prayed.

Then it happened, from behind my car, an angel. You see, angels live here on earth and we each have the opportunity to be this angel to another. I didn’t know this woman but as she came around the back of the car I was flustered trying to identify exactly what my child needed. Her words were simple.

“Can I help?” she asked.

Never has a stranger done this for me. Sure, I’ve had friends do it. In fact I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that a friend followed this woman shortly after reminding me I am not alone and that she too was here for me. Today I was shook.

The woman, this stranger went on to talk to my daughter. To engage her and while I expected her to escalate again, her calm voice was a gift and her presence calmed my once distraught child. When I finally figured it out and had exactly what my daughter needed, we returned to Mass, together. To celebrate.

I had a lot to celebrate as I ushered my now calm daughter into the cry room. I had support. I felt love and as I listened to our Priests homily, he preached on that topic, LOVE. It was as if his writing was prepared for exactly what happened today. Perhaps he did it on the fly, not prepared for what my daughter would bring to mass but able to regroup and give to our community what was needed. Perhaps it was planned and was no coincidence and instead of judgement people left mass with empathy. I was reminded today its easy to say we love one but another thing entirely to act on it.

Today, more than any other moment in my Faith Journey with Autism, I saw God. In this woman, this angel who chose to be Jesus to me in a difficult moment.

Perhaps I don’t go to your church or maybe you have been the “me” I was before this journey. I am fairly certain if I’m not there, someone walking my journey is. I get it. Its uncomfortable to watch as a child behaves in an unexpected way but if you just take a deep breath and remind yourself why you are there, perhaps you may have the opportunity to show love to your neighbor, to be their angel. To show Jesus’ face and I guarantee, your gesture will not be forgotten.

Imagine.

Like a flower, sometimes children take more time to bloom. They may not look like you anticipated but if you take a moment, you will find the beauty in each individual child.

Imagine. Being told, your child, the one you birthed was slipping, into an abyss and changing. That she would need countless hours of therapy that your insurance wouldn’t cover–initially and you spent countless hours fighting for her.

Imagine. Fearing that gap from 3-5 would be lost. The time when you can work diligently and get so much back because you don’t have the therapies you need. So you go get trained to be a therapist because, you want so much to give your child her best chance.

Imagine. Your school district, the people who were supposed to be who the insurance said they were, didn’t have the program so you fought. You asked for certifications for paras, you requested a full time behaviorist and even more, a full day Autism program and they implemented it but still, you worried.

Imagine. Finally getting insurance coverage only to find out nearly no one in your area accepted it and you weren’t J Wow and couldn’t afford the therapists without support and so you went to work again. Finding therapy companies and starting and then being told they couldn’t continue or that they didn’t think your child was safe to be in public.

Imagine. Being told your child was restrained 58 times in one school year and another 39 the next when the year ended due to a pandemic and you now worked full time, you had a child who needed support and the only support, school was virtual.

Imagine. The first month of the pandemic, your child broke her collar bone and shaved her head because she had no understanding of danger and so you worked diligently with her team, remotely and finally decided to bring medicine on board.

Imagine. Giving a child medicine, waiting. Praying. Hoping. At the same time finding a therapy company. Hoping some more and wanting the behaviors to change.

Imagine. The therapy company comes in. The first therapist quits. The second you wait on pins and needles wondering if she’d leave you, too?

Imagine. She’s a unicorn. The medicine is working. You see your child becoming who you once remember her being. You hear her laughter. You recognize her awareness of herself, her surroundings and then you realize the people who knew her before don’t know who she is now.

Imagine. Trying to get others to recognize her growth. To see who she is now, not who she was before medication, before her new unicorn therapist.

Imagine. Hearing your child excited for her “friends” on Teams.

Imagine. Your child being judged on behaviors and her daily work while other kids have similar behaviors but are accepted no questions asked.

Imagine. Countless hours sobbing because people aren’t “kind” like the mottos say and they don’t see children for who they are and so you spend ALL your life fighting for what your child deserves.

Imagine. No, don’t. Its a nightmare and its the one parents of children who are differently abled live every day.

So instead of imagining, put yourself in their shoes. Try to feel their pain. Understand their smiling eyes are doing so because if they stop smiling they will feel what they have become numb to because this is life as a Special Education Parent.