Going to the dentist is not a fun event for most people. As the parent of a child with autism, it may actually be a traumatic event for the entire family. Autistic children may not fully understand what is going on, and may fight or otherwise attempt to stop a trip to the dentist. Social stories are one method of helping your autistic child learn that the dentist doesn't have to be a frightening event.
What Are Social Stories?
A social story is a story that is designed to teach social skills to those who have autism or other disorders that can make it difficult to relate to people. Each story is about a situation or activity and includes the reasons why people do what they do in that situation. For example, a social story about the dentist would teach who the dentist is, what the child can expect, how the dentist and staff will behave, and how the child should respond.
How Are Social Stories Used?
A social story should be used before it is time for the child to go to the dentist. It is best to share the story when everyone is feeling calm. Ideally, social stories are shared as a special time with your child, such as while sharing a cup of hot chocolate. Stay calm and friendly as you read to your child, reviewing the story every day if needed until you are sure that your child is ready to go to the dentist.
When combined with social stories, role-playing can be a powerful tool in helping your child overcome any fear and distrust of the dentist. First, read the story together, several times if possible. Then, you can take turns with your child playing as the dentist and the patient. Try to make it as much like an actual visit as you can, so that you can eliminate surprises.
Take a Field Trip
After you have read the social story to your child, and you feel that your child is more comfortable about going to the dentist, you should try to arrange a visit to the dental office. This shouldn't be a trip for the actual appointment, but just a walkthrough for the child to see that the story was right and that there aren't any surprises waiting for them. Seeing that everything is like the story can help a great deal in keeping your autistic child calm while at the dentist.
While social stories won't solve every autistic child's fear of the dentist, they can be powerful tools parents can use to help make each trip go as smoothly as possible.