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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

Supporting communication during medical appointments

Article by Stephanie Ekis, MS, CCC-SLP

Going to the doctor or dentist can cause anxiety for many of us. My girlfriend has a 9 year old who becomes very anxious in any new situation or environment – especially medical appointments.  She begins preparing her son well before the appointment to help ease his anxiety and prepare him as much as possible.  They visit the library and check out books about the doctor.  They look at pictures of past visits and program information into his device. They even count down the days on the calendar posted on the refrigerator.

If your child has communication challenges, make sure that they have the tools they need in order to interact with the doctor or to discuss their feelings before and after the appointment.  Communication boards or devices (e.g., Maestro) can be used to introduce new concepts to your child prior to the appointment and give them a way of expressing themselves during and after.

Pre-appointment phase

  • Mark the event on the home calendar and count down the days with your child.
  • Talk about the things that you child will see.  Get on the internet and search for pictures of the things that you might find in a doctor/dentist office.  Also, don’t forget to talk about the things that your child might smell, feel and hear.
  • Introduce your child to the doctor via photographs.  You doctor might have a profile on a website or you could request a picture from the office.
  • Talk about the things that will happen.
  • Make sure that the medical staff knows about the way your child communicates.

Appointment phase

  • Give your child has a way to communicate during the appointment.  Whether it is a simple picture communication board  or a voice output communication device, make sure that your child has the words and messages to express themselves during the appointment.
  • During the appointment, use the easiest and most comfortable method of communication for your child.  When a situation is stressful, they may prefer to use sign language or a simple picture board.

Post-appointment phase

Don’t forget about the time after the appointment.  Try to have your child talk about their experience…how they feel and what they think about it.  Use their communication pages to allow them to answer questions and make comments.  Talk about what they liked and what they didn’t.  You could also use your computer to write a story about the experience.

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