In my last post, I talked about what it's like to take autistic children to the playground and what families think about before bringing their kids to a new park. This time, I thought I would talk about another experience that you wouldn't necessarily think required any special thought.....going to the doctor.
Kids go to the doctor all the time. They get sick. There are many well-child visits that are required to confirm that they are "on target". They visit the doctor to confirm they can participate in sports teams. They receive immunizations. The list goes on and on. And for most kids, you simply put them in the car, drive to the doctor and get through the visit.
That's not how doctor's visits happen around here, especially for Music Man (Ballerina isn't as bothered by them). And we dread the emergency visits that have to periodically be made. You see, Music Man needs to know what's coming long before it happens. He needs to go through his own checklist for almost everything he does. So, when the appointment is about 3 days away, that's when we begin.
It starts with a "Social Story". A social story is a tool that people use to prepare others for an event. They just lay out the steps. You can have a social story for doctor/dentist visits. You can have one for going to the store. Any time you can create a beginning, middle and end, you can have a social story. We used social stories for everything, including potty training and lessons on how to behave at the neighborhood pool. One of Music Man's most popular ones is "Twin Sister Goes To The Doctor". We just took pictures during her visit one time and put a sequence of events together. This comes out about 3 days before a doctor's visit. We read it at least 20 times in those 3 days. He's reciting it with me after a few times. And I make the story as "interesting" as I possibly can.
But even with that preparation, on the day of the visit, it's still a challenge. You see, he likes the waiting room. He will be perfectly happy sitting in the waiting room the whole time. He would probably like it if the whole exam could take place in the waiting room (and we have done that on occassion when the exam doesn't require undressing or testing using equipment in the exam rooms). After realizing this, I developed an understanding with the staff at our pediatrician's office. When Music Man leaves the waiting room, we are in and out. White coats are left outside the exam room. The nurse immediately weighs and measures him, checks his temperature, and any other assessment that she needs to do. As soon as she leaves, the doctor comes in immediately and does whatever is needed. Then, if necessary, the nurse comes back for anything that's left and then we head back into the waiting room. Any discussion that is needed is done out there. In order to make sure things will happen this way, we are usually waiting in the waiting room for at least 15 minutes longer than most other patients. But Music Man is comfortable there, not in the exam room. He can't handle sitting in there waiting, and that makes it worth while.
It took us a while to learn this. It took a lot of experimentation. And it took a doctor who understands. Our pediatrician is not an expert in autism -- she will be the first to tell you that. But she understands that Music Man is not a typical patient. He needs more to feel comfortable. He needs to be where he's comfortable. And she is willing to accommodate as far as it is possible.
So, here's my message to all you Autism Families reading this post. If you have a doctor who is NOT willing to work with your child and make the experience as easy as possible, you need to consider finding one who is more flexible. I assure you -- these doctors are out there. Going to the doctor scares our kids enough -- make the experience as easy as possible.....for all of you!