Jennie Chapman, mum of Finley tells how visiting the dentist was made so much easier thanks to the patience and understanding of her dentist.
My son Finley has autism and every day appointments can cause him much anxiety. When the time came for him to start regular visits to the dentists, I started worrying about how we were going to deal with this. I don’t know anybody who likes going to the dentist but for Finley, changes to his environment and routine can be a big challenge.
I have a great relationship with my dentist and explained that I would like to make an appointment for Finley but that this would require some preparation and whether she would be happy to work with me on this. Katie, my dentist, couldn’t have been more accommodating. She asked me to fill out the usual health forms and write down any issues/barriers there might be.
Katie immediately understood what might be required and proactively mentioned the things she could do to help – adjusting the lighting, minimising any noises, and checking how Finley would feel about her wearing a mask and gloves.
Straight away some of my concerns were removed and we had hoped that this may not be the traumatic experience we were bracing ourselves for. To know that I was working with a professional who wanted to understand and was prepared to work with me was amazing.
We arranged a series of visits that would gradually introduce Finley to the environment and the experience – Katie arranged for us to have the first appointment of the day and made sure that the waiting room was empty for this first visit.
We were there for all of 3 minutes during which time Finley wandered around the waiting room, Katie came out to him and said ‘Hi’, Finley did a quick ‘Ahh’ to show off his teeth (like we had practised at home), she gave some verbal praise, a high 5 and we said goodbye. It was perfect, exactly what Finley needed.
We attended again a month later and a month after that. At each visit we progressed further, but never felt pushed or like we were wasting their time. Finley will now sit in the waiting room (briefly), go into Katies room, sit on the chair as its lowered back, open his mouth and let Katie have a good look, he then likes to take a sip of water and spits it out (thank you Peppa Pig dentist episode for that), he gets his sticker and off he goes.
We still have more work to do and keeping up the regular visits is vital, but the main thing for us is that every visit has been positive because it was at Finley’s pace and with adjustments to the environment that made him feel safe and calm.
Learn, Understand, Accept
Dentists, Doctors, haircuts, flu sprays all these things cause a huge amount of anxiety to us as parents and to our children and we know they are never going to be easy, but I can’t tell you how much a little understanding and patience means to me and Finley. It could have been so different and traumatic, instead it has been handled with care and compassion. Hopefully regular check-ups will keep Finley’s teeth healthy and avoid procedures that may have been necessarily had we avoided visits, and if in the future he does need treatment, we already have that trust built up.
Finley now has a calm and peaceful experience in visiting the dentist – something most of us would appreciate!
And what Finley’s dentist, Kate had to say ….
It’s been a real pleasure to be part of Finley’s dental journey. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see him progress in confidence and to now be able to come into the clinic and surgery to allow a dental examination.
It’s been important to take time to listen to his parents and understand just what we can do to help Finley. They have been very proactive and helpful allowing Finley to understand what to expect before arriving at the clinic and then we have tried as a practice to support and enhance this. I believe a large part of this has been to reassure Finley’s mum and dad that we are happy to take the time Finley needs and to listen to their advice and any concerns.
If they feel confident to bring Finley into the clinic, Finley in turn will also feel more relaxed. We really have enjoyed looking after Finley and look forward to many more years of providing his dental care. He should feel very proud of what he has achieved. Katie – Finley’s dentist.