Dentist Gives A Lesson In Autism


Would you believe that John has been kicked out of three dentists offices?

Not temporarily kicked out like the time I was kicked out of the house by Bella when I washed her new gray blouse with my red blanket and ruined it!

I mean kicked out as in told we could never bring him back. (although she did sound just as serious at the time!)

If you’re an autism parent, then of course you believe it, and have quite possibly experienced something similar yourself.

If you’re not an autism parent then you may be surprised to hear that this stuff actually happens, and with a frequency that would alarm you!

I’m happy to say that we now have a dentist that the kiddo has been seeing for the past couple of years.

The point of this article isn’t about John going to the dentist, it’s about the fact that John doesn’t act any differently here than he did at any of the other three dentists.

He hasn’t “outgrown” his autism. He hasn’t learned to love dentist visits, nor matured to the point where he just grudgingly accepts them.

No, the difference is not with John, it’s with the dentist and his entire staff.

The dentist talks to John throughout the exam, telling him what he’s going to do before he does it. He then answers any questions John has before they start. They all listen to John and when John indicates that he needs a break, they give him a break.

He has listened to us and uses language that John understands like “sugar bugs” to explain how sugar is bad for his teeth.

It doesn’t sound like he does anything different than what you would expect a dentist to do with any kiddo right?

There are three main things that separate this dentist from any other we’ve been to. Three very crucial things that make a trip to the dentist every six months doable.

  • The dentist listens to us.
  • He listens to John.
  • They show a little extra patience to ensure that John is comfortable with the situation through every step of the process.

I seriously mean a small amount of extra patience.

Past dentists may answer one or two of John’s questions, and then tell him to just sit back and relax, and that he’ll be OK.

Then when he’s not OK, they try to barrel through the exam.

This of course is one of the best ways to bring on the fury of hell that The Boy can unleash when he’s having a panicked meltdown!

This dentist may have had to answer four or five questions instead of two or three.

He ensured John’s understanding.

When John saw that he was going to use a pointy scraper and got scared, the dentist demonstrated how it’s used and explained what it was for.

He says things like, “OK John, we’re going to clean four teeth then we’ll take a break.” It’s not a long break either.

He cleans four teeth then sprays water in John’s mouth and sucks it back out with that really cool miniature mouth vacuum thingy. Then he says the same thing and does four more teeth.

His visits are literally only a few minutes longer AT MOST than any other kiddos visit.

Here’s where we’re at now with dentist visits.

John of course still hates them. Then again I hate my dentist visits too, but neither of us have any meltdowns.

The dentist still explains every step before he does anything, but John rarely has questions, except to ask if he has any cavities and if he’s been doing a good job getting rid of the sugar bugs through brushing, flossing and mouth wash.

John typically skips the breaks when the dentist offers them.

And finally, I have gotten out of a LOT of chores at home because I am always the one to take John to the dentist! That usually gets me out of at least a few days worth of chores.

Bella had to take John to all of the other dentists when he was little and only remembers how horrific they were, so by me taking care of the dentist now I look like a hero! (Yay go me!)

This article isn’t really about John’s dentist though.

It’s about the fact that many of the challenges our kiddos face have more to do with how they’re treated rather than with their autism behaviors.

I want you to understand that many of their “socially unacceptable” behaviors are the result of conditioning rather than the diagnosis of autism.

I’ll be the first to admit that John requires more work and patience than a neurotypical child, but does he really require THAT much more? NO!

Anyone who invests a little patience, time and understanding into someone with autism will find that they are just as “normal” (and abnormal) as anyone else!

The unfortunate truth though, is that most people are just like John’s past three dentists.

They give the briefest amount of time to try and get a kiddo to conform to their ways without trying to understand the spectrum at all, and then barrel on through with whatever it is that they want to accomplish.

Teachers, fellow students, hair stylists, the cashier at your local store, the server at the restaurant; hell, even grandma and grandpa for some families!

They expect our kids to conform to the social norm.

  • When are we going to make it a social norm to look at things through the eyes of others, rather than what is simply comfortable for us?
  • When are we going to make it a social norm to help out our “fellow man”, rather than shun those who are different?
  • When are we going to make it a social norm to be accepting of ALL people, and not just those who are most like ourselves?

These are questions we should all be asking.

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