How to Help Your Sensory Child at the Doctor

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Whether you have a Sensory Seeker or a Sensory Avoider, visits to the doctor can be very challenging for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder. I know. I have both. My older son spent his younger years literally bouncing around the exam room seeking sensory input, then scurried under the table to avoid having his ears examined because he has auditory sensitivity. 

How to help your sensory child cope with doctor visits.

My daughter, on the other hand, just cannot tolerate being examined. Being touched and poked and prodded is her very least favorite way to spend her time. The idea of it sends her into a high state of anxiety. Tactile aversion is a huge feature of her sensory disorder. Unfortunately, she also has asthma that is often not under control, so she has to endure more than just regular medical and dental check-ups.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our own experiences to make doctor and dental visits go more smoothly for our kids.

How To Help Your Sensory Child at the Doctor

  1. Educate Yourself. Learn as much as you can about SPD and as much as you can about how it affects your child. 
  2. Advocate for your child. It’s my job to advocate for my children until they can do it for themselves. When they see me advocate for them, they are learning. As they grow into older kids and teenagers, my hope is that we can move towards them being the advocate and me being there in a support role.
  3. You are the case manager for your child. That means that you are the one who looks at the big picture and sees what’s possible. You’re the one that knows that two doctors appointments in one week are too much for your child. You are the one that knows if your child can tolerate a particular treatment.
    Here’s an example. My daughter has asthma and was taking medication via a nebulizer every night. She hated it.  She communicated this by screaming and refusing the treatment every night at bedtime. Her asthma specialist worked with us to progressively move her off of the nebulizer to an inhaler, which delivered the same medications.  A year later, when her pulmonologist insisted she take medications via a nebulizer, I told him how and why we had worked to get her off the nebulizer and we were staying off unless her condition gravely worsened.
  4. Find sensory-friendly providers. Use friends, family, neighbors and social media contacts to find the most sensory-friendly providers you can possible locate. Mostly this is preferable to taking your chances on an unknown provider.
  5. Educate the providers, as needed, about YOUR child. Each SPD kid is different. Our sensory-friendly dentist’s office thinks all SPD kids need to be seen in a dimly lit room. You have to love them for trying but my daughter could care less about that. She becomes highly agitated because the hygienists are always too chatty in their efforts to soothe her. She doesn’t want to talk about school or meet Mr. Thirsty, the spit-sucking instrument, she just wants to get out of there as quickly as possible. They get reminded when we arrive about HER particular needs  (see #7).
  6. If you don’t get a kind, professional and helpful response, go elsewhere. Teach your child that this is okay. A doctor who doesn’t know anything about SPD but is open to your suggestions about how to help YOUR child is preferred over someone who does know about SPD but isn’t listening to you and respecting what is helpful to your child. If a medical professional does not respond positively to making this challenging situation easier for my child, we find someone else to work with. Period. 
  7. Practice your elevator speech. I used to print out a one-page info sheet about SPD and what would help my child during the exam, but I found that not everyone read it. Even when I highlighted the important info that could be scanned, they didn’t read it. So now, as each nurse, doctor, technician, etc. approaches my child, I say my elevator speech. “[Child’s Name] has Sensory Processing Disorder. Going to the doctor/dentist is very challenging for her. What helps her is  ________ and ___________.”  For my daughter, it sounds like this:  “Chloe has Sensory Processing Disorder. Going the the doctor is her BIGGEST challenge.  What helps her is as little touching as possible and focusing on her iPad while you examine her. ”  Or, at the dentist, “What helps her is examining her teeth as quickly as possible with as little conversation as possible, other than explaining what you are doing next.”For my son:  “Alex has SPD. He has extreme auditory sensitivity and having his ears examined is one of his biggest challenges. What helps him is letting him hold the otoscope while you look. It takes more time to see in his ears, but less time than if he becomes overwhelmed and dives under the exam table.”
  8. Let providers know you need a conservative approach to medical interventions, unless of course there is a life threatening or serious condition that requires it. For kids who have a challenging time with medical interventions, I’m a big fan of doing only what’s necessary–no extras. 
  9. “My child is not giving you a hard time, he is HAVING a hard time.” works well in response to “Now be a good boy”, “You must behave” or “You’re not going to get a lollipop”.  Also, that’s a deal breaker and we won’t go back to any professional who is unprofessional enough to say things like that to an ill and frightened child, whether they have SPD or not.  

More About Sensory Processing Disorder in Our Family

Being diagnosed with SPD

How to Combine Homeschooling with Special Needs Therapies (without losing your mind)

Sensory Activities that Help Growing Brains

Our Easy, Inexpensive Indoor Sandbox to Help With Tactile Sensitivities

More Resources

Surviving Doctor Visits and Vaccines When Your Child Has SPD  from Dayna at Lemon Lime Adventures

Tactile Defensiveness as a Child and an Adult from Kara at ALLterNATIVElearning

SPD Pinterest Board

{Disclaimer: This post reflects my experiences with my children and is not intended as medical advice for others.}