Preparing to Visit the Doctor

For children with autism and other learning challenges, visiting the doctor can be a huge source of anxiety.  Likewise, parents can stress out for weeks prior to an upcoming doctor’s appointment, anticipating their child's potential outbursts and not wanting to subject their child to the related anxiety.  To help your family prepare for your next doctor's visit, here are 4 tips to help you and your child alleviate the stress:

1. Roleplay

Before going to the doctor, find a toy doctor’s set and together look at the different equipment a doctor might use in an appointment. Show your child how the tools are used, whether it is listening to their heartbeat, checking their temperature, or looking at their ears and throat.  Similarly, show your child pictures of the doctor’s office—the waiting room, exam room, scales, etc.—and roleplay what happens in each of these places.  If it is possible, visit the office prior to the appointment, starting with the parking lot, moving to the foyer, then the waiting room, helping your child to visualize where they will be going the day of the appointment.

2. Prepare the medical staff

When you schedule your appointment, let the scheduler know that your child has special needs, and may require some additional time.  Ask if there are special exam rooms or waiting areas available without fluorescent lights and noise from other kids.  Request that any paperwork be sent to you ahead of time so as not to prolong the time you are waiting for your appointment.  Finally, be prepared to share essential information with the nurse or medical assistant regarding how best to approach your child, including how they prefer to be touched (i.e. light or firm), what they preferred to be called, and how the staff should give them instructions for best success (i.e. direct statements or questions).

3. Help build rapport  

Have your child bring a favorite toy or story to share with the doctor and medical staff.  Be sure to bring preferred activities to entertain your child during any waiting periods.  

4. Reward success  

Be sure to reward your child each step of the way.  If you need to visit the office multiple times before your appointment to help prepare your child, be sure to reward them each time they are successful with praise and a preferred item.  At the conclusion of a successful appointment, reinforce their success by providing a reward.

(adapted from Milestones Autism Resources Tips for Professionals,