Dental Health and Autism: Can a Visual Schedule Prepare Your Child For a Check-up?

Visits to the dentist can be difficult for autistic children, especially if they've never been to the dentist before. While you can explain what will happen when your child has a check-up, this may not be enough to allay their fears and make the experience less stressful for them. In some cases, it may help to create a visual schedule before a dentist's appointment. This may help your child better understand what will happen during the appointment so that they are comfortable enough to get through a check-up with no problems.

What Are Visual Schedules?

A visual schedule uses photos or pictures to outline the stages of a process. In dental check-up terms, this kind of schedule would include a series of images that show what happens during an appointment in an exact order. So, for example, a schedule for a dental check-up might include images that show a patient getting into the chair, settling into the right position and opening their mouth. The schedule could then show pictures of the dentist going through the check-up process.

How Do Visual Schedules Help Autistic Children?

Children on the autistic spectrum often find it difficult to cope with new experiences. If your child flourishes when they have a routine or structure but flounders at times when they don't understand what is going to happen, then this kind of schedule may help them prepare for new experiences. Using images often helps autistic children retain information; knowing what is going to happen in a particular order may make them more comfortable about the appointment.

How to Create a Visual Schedule for a Dental Check-up

You can use photos or drawings to create a visual schedule. It is, however, very important to make sure that you include as much information as possible in the order that your dentist will run the appointment. For this reason, it may be worth talking to your dentist before taking your child for a check-up to learn the main points and order of images that you'll put in the schedule.

Dentists with experience dealing with children on the spectrum may have their own tools to help autistic kids deal with visits to clinics. This may include visual schedules, so it's worth checking out what your dentist has to offer before you create your own schedule. If your family dentist doesn't have experience of dealing with autistic children, and you're worried about how your child will react to a check-up, it may be worth using a paediatric dentist with experience working with kids with special needs.