Ladies and Gentlemen, I witnessed a small miracle this week. I saw Quentin climb into a dental chair and sit in it for an entire dental-check up!
Why was this such an amazing sight? Well, just six months ago, at his last check-up, it took me, the dentist, and a strong assistant to hold him down as he got his teeth cleaned. He screamed and kicked. He actually ended up biting our dentist’s finger badly during that visit. We were all a bit traumatized. Our dentist said that for our next visit, we would have to consider restraints; he is getting too big and too strong.
But this week, he hopped right up into that chair and sat appropriately without anyone holding him. She began by letting him brush his own teeth with a toothbrush he picked out, and then she took over. He did everything that was asked of him and the visit went fast.
What a difference six months make!
I have been thinking about what worked for us, and wanted to share it with you, in case you are also needing guidance at dental check-ups. Here, I believe, are the highlights:
- A helpful app. First, there was prep work. A few months ago I reviewed an app called My Healthy Smile, which has some basic social stories about taking care of your teeth and what it’s like to have a dental check-up. Quentin played with it a lot when we first downloaded it, but he has not looked at it in a while. So we looked at it again, together, the day before the exam. I explained that we are visiting the dentist soon and this is what it will be like. He enjoyed going through the various pictures.
- A morning appointment. This time, we got an early appointment, in the morning. We have a pediatric dentist, and she prefers to see young children and children who have special needs first thing in the day. Quentin had a day off from school (a teacher conference day), so it worked out well for us. It turns out that the quiet office had a big impact on Quentin. There were not as many distractions with other kids and families around. It was less stimulating and easier to relax.
- No sibling-rivalry. Fiona was not with us. I am adding this in because even the dentist remarked that my kids seem to work better when they are separated. If your child normally goes to appointments with siblings, consider switching it up.
- Mommy not in the room. As soon as we saw Quentin getting into the chair himself and sitting appropriately, I asked the dentist if I should stay. She said I could, but some kids do better when their parent is gone. I was worried it wouldn’t work out, so I did the compromising thing: I stood just outside the doorway, out of sight, but ready to jump in if need be. (I popped in only once to snap the photo you see above!)
- Favorite TV show to watch. Our dentist’s office is amazing; she has two TV screens in every room. One is on the wall facing the dental chair and the other is mounted on the ceiling! This makes a huge difference for Quentin, the media kid. (However, at our last appointment, it was simply over-stimulating. He actually grabbed the remote and started to change channels. But not this time.) This time, the channel was set to Nick Jr, a channel he already loves. The dentist noticed that he was trying to look at both screens same time, so she shut off the screen straight ahead, so he could focus on the ceiling screen and she could get to his mouth. That worked. Yo Gabba Gabba was on – a show he doesn’t really care for. But then… a miracle occurred! Suddenly, Ni Hao Kai Lan came on the air! Quentin must have smiled or kicked happily, because I heard her say, “Oh, so you like Kai Lan, huh?” She mentioned to me after the appointment that if this is favorite show, we could arrange to have it playing On Demand every time he comes.
Of course, all of this ultimately worked out well because we have such a great dentist who understands autism spectrum disorders. She does not insist on x-rays because she knows it’s too much for him to handle. (She did say that if his teeth ever look like there’s a cavity or another problem, we will have to sedate him for x-rays, however.) She knows about sensory issues. She has every gadget and reward available for an easy appointment. To top it off, she has such a kind “bedside manner”; she is always smiling and genuinely happy to see my kids. (If you live in or near Brooklyn, I highly recommend Dr. Mindy Homer!) We are lucky to have found such a great dentist.
I’m so proud of Quentin. My heart swells knowing that he is making it through things that have been so difficult for him in the past. A small thing like a dental check-up without a fight is a BIG thing for special needs parents.
Oh – and P.S. – No cavities!