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Make the Most of Medical Visits for Your Nonverbal Child

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 what hurts.

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.