My name is Mark, and I have an amazing son called James who just happens to be autistic. He was confirmed as autistic when he was two years old and at age 15 he was also diagnosed with epilepsy.
There are many appointments and meetings that can cause James distress, but we are especially keen that he gets regular medical check-ups. The one that we all dread is a trip to the dentist and it’s no different for James except that we need to make special arrangements for this to be as comfortable as possible.
When he was younger it was easy; he had regular appointments with a specialist additional needs dentist who understood exactly what was necessary for James to feel safe and to get the review he needed. The appointment was stress free – he’d go in, they’d check his teeth, and he remained calm throughout.
This all changed when James turned 19 as he needed to switch to an adult dentist, and I was dreading the impact this would have on him. Any change is very difficult for James, but we tried our best to manage the transition. We showed him pictures of what the new dentist’s premises looked like and plotted the journey to get there with him using an online app but when we arrived for his first appointment, James refused point blank to go in.
After a while of trying to convince James that he would be safe it was obvious that he wasn’t going to feel comfortable. I went into reception and explained that James couldn’t make the transition to this new service at this time. I was expecting them to rearrange the appointment but to my surprise they actually offered to come out and see James whilst he sat in the car.
The dentist was very kind to James, she didn’t loom over him but managed to communicate in a way that meant she was able to do a full inspection of James’ teeth. This has happened three times now and each time it gets easier. I am hoping that one day James will feel confident enough to actually go into the surgery and sit in the chair but for the time being I am happy that he is getting regular check-ups and his teeth are being looked after.
Learn, Understand, Accept
I was not expecting this kindness and empathy, but it gives me hope that the more people who learn about autism and what is required to make life easier for those living with autism, the closer we get to a world of acceptance and inclusion.