Imagine being sick and not being able to tell people how you feel. That’s stressful
for a child with special needs who is nonverbal. And it’s challenging for the health
care team, too. It is harder to pinpoint an illness when the patient can’t explain
You can be a link between your child and health care providers. Here are some helpful
tips for both routine visits and sick-child appointments.
Introduce Your Child to New Providers
Call ahead to ask the staff how they work with children who have autism. Some nurses
have specific skill in caring for patients with special needs. Ask if anyone on staff
is certified as a developmental disabilities nurse.
You know what puts your child at ease. And you know what triggers problem behaviors.
Share this information with the health care team.
Many children have a comfort object, such as a favorite blanket or toy. Ask if it
is OK to bring this object along.
Consider using rewards. Providing a small reward at different stages in a medical
visit may help keep things moving along smoothly. For example, your child might get
one small reward after being weighed and another after having blood drawn. You know
better than anyone what motivates your child.
Let Your Child Know What to Expect
For many nonverbal children, a visual schedule can be very helpful. Include pictures
for key steps in the visit. For example, there might be pictures for the weight check,
the height check, the blood pressure check, and so on.
Social stories are another useful tool. These are simple stories about social situations,
such as going to the doctor. They are designed to help kids with autism understand
how they are expected to behave in that setting.
It’s easier to provide this kind of support when your child sees the same health care
team regularly. This highlights the importance of having a “medical home.” It isn’t
a place. Instead, it’s a way of providing care to your child. It involves building
a trusting relationship between your family and a health care team. This includes
the primary provider, nurses, support staff, and other specialists you see regularly.
Over time, the health care team gets to know your child. You feel comfortable sharing
concerns and asking questions. And your child feels understood. This type of care
means more than words can say.