A child with autism may have specific behaviours, sensory sensitivities and communication difficulties that make deviation from routine difficult to cope with. They may dislike change, preferring people, places and situations they are familiar with.
Naturally, parents and caregivers develop lifestyle patterns and strategies that help to minimise situations that make children with autism uncomfortable, but sometimes unfamiliar situations can’t be avoided. One such example is taking an autistic child to the GP.
The following strategies may help a child with autism to feel more prepared and comfortable at a doctor’s appointment:
Brief the GP beforehand
Inform or remind the doctor of your child’s autistic behaviours before the visit. The GP may be aware of your child’s autism diagnosis, but taking the time to brief them on their specific sensitivities, behaviours and communication style may help to ensure the visit goes well.
Choose the least busy time for your appointment
When booking your appointment ask for the least busy day of the week and the quietest time of the day to visit. A calm, quiet doctor’s surgery is a better environment for a child with autism than a busy one.
Consider the best time of day to avoid delays
Reduce the time spent in the waiting room by choosing the first appointment of the day, or the first appointment after lunch when the doctor is most likely to be running to schedule. Alternatively, you could ring to ask if the doctor is running on time and delay your arrival if they aren’t.
Talk to your child ahead of time about what to expect
Using clear, calm and reassuring language, explain why an appointment with the doctor is needed, and exactly what your child can expect to happen at the doctor’s surgery. You might involve the other family members in the chat but agree beforehand that only positive language and references are to be shared.
Prepare your child with a brief pre-visit or a drive-by
A child with autism may feel less anxious if they are going to a familiar place. Visit the doctor’s surgery in the days before your appointment to show them where they will be going or if that isn’t possible, a drive-by might help to create a sense of the familiar.
Use social stories to demonstrate what a visit to the GP might look like
Social stories were developed to help children with autism learn and gain better understanding of social situations. They use visual cues like photographs alongside narrative to tell a story. You could read social stories about visiting the GP with your child in the days leading up to the visit.
Bring their own books, toys or puzzles to distract or entertain them if you need to. The ability to focus on a familiar object such as a favourite book or toy may help to reduce their anxiety.
Consider taking family members to the appointment
When a child with autism visits the GP, they may feel more secure with both parents and perhaps a supportive sibling, aunt or uncle along for the ride. However, try to avoid taking younger siblings if they might be a distraction.
If you’re feeling any anxiety about the prospect of taking your child with autism to the GP, seek support for yourself too. At Relational Minds our diverse team of professionals take a collaborative and holistic approach to family therapy enabling the support of children and teens with mental health issues. We provide an autism assessment service and professional guidance to families and carers of children with autism.
Get in touch if you need help supporting your child with autism through medical appointments or any other issues.