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Esther Leung
BY Esther Leung

20 Tips for Planning a Doctor’s Visit for your Child with Special Needs

Going to your doctor for a check-up or a health concern can be difficult for some children, especially if they are not feeling well.  Here are some ideas when planning for an upcoming appointment to help make the experience a little smoother for everyone involved.

 Booking the appointment:

1. Quiet Days

If your schedule has the flexibility, request a day and time that is quieter. This may be less overwhelming for you and your child, especially when in the waiting room. There is also a lower chance of your doctor being late for the appointment. If needed, see if you can book a longer appointment, especially if your child needs additional time to warm up or get comfortable with your doctor.

2. Ask Questions Before

See if there is a way to forward your questions to your doctor ahead of time. Does he or she have access to email or phone appointments?

3. Get the Details

If it is a yearly checkup or for vaccinations, find out exactly what will happen so you know what to expect and can prepare your child

4. Do Paperwork in Advance

If there is any paperwork that you need to complete, find out if the forms could be emailed or sent to you first, so you can do it at home.  This makes for one less thing to do when you arrive at the office.

Before the appointment

5. Prepare your child

Model Me Going PlacesPrepare your child with a personal narrative or a short video of what will happen during a doctor’s visit.  For an example of a short video about the doctor’s visit, you can download the free app called Model Me Going Places.

7. Set the Scene

Take photos of your doctor and the office to personalize the narrative story or video.

8. Practice

Practice what will happen during the doctor’s appointment. Use dolls or role-play with a toy doctor’s kit. This is another way to help your child anticipate what is happening.

9. Visual Schedule

Create a small visual schedule the doctor’s visit (i.e. Car – waiting room – talk to doctor – park – home)

10. Stay Calm

Try to do a calming and relaxing activity prior to the appointment. Try to avoid rushing, so you and your child are not agitated coming into the office.

At the Appointment

11. Bring Reinforcements

See if a friend or relative can come with you to the appointment if you need to talk with the doctor and your child has a difficult time sitting for long periods of time.

12. Fidget Toys

Bring fidget toys or small comfort toys so your child has something to do in the waiting room.  These toys can also provide some comfort or distraction when the doctor is completing his/her exam or while you are talking to the doctor.

13. Provide Demonstrations

If your doctor is comfortable, have him/her explain and demonstrate what they are about to do, on themselves or you first. Use the concept of my turn, your turn.

14. Expect the Unexpected

There are going to be parts of a doctor’s visit that are not comfortable not matter how you plan for it and there is a possibility that your child will get upset (i.e. shots and blood work). Be the reassuring voice; explain to your child what is happening. Label how your child may be feeling “Ouch that hurts, but you are ok!”

15. Reward Your Child

Arrange for a reward or special activity after the doctor’s appointment. This is to celebrate a successful trip to the doctor!

Other suggestions

16. Get a referral from a trusted source

If you are looking for a family doctor, talk to other families of children with special needs and ask about their experiences.  It is important to find a doctor who listens to your concerns and approaches your child with kindness and respect.

17. Get help from professionals

If you are not sure how to express your concerns to your doctor about a specific problem with your child, have the other professionals and therapists working with your child support you.  They can give you suggestions about the types of questions to ask, as well as reports or other developmental information that is important for the doctor to know.  This is especially important if you are requesting referrals for specialists or treatments.  Sometimes, teachers, therapists and case managers can accompany you on specific appointments to provide you support and to help advocate for certain supports.

18. Toys or Activities to Prepare

If you are visiting a doctor located in a hospital, find out if there are social workers or child life therapists who can provide toys, activities and additional support in preparing your child for appointments or medical procedures.

19. More Tips

For youth and young adults with disabilities, here is a tip sheet to increase their participation in the doctor’s appointment. This is a great way to start teaching important independence and life skills:

20. Your Tips

Share your tips for a successful visit to the doctor in the comments.

Top Photo Credit: Laura Smith/Flickr

You also may be interested in A Special Needs Guide to Dental Hygiene


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Esther Leung

Written on December 9, 2013 by:

Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.
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