World Autism Awareness Week 2015April 13th, 2015
Last week saw the grand finale of World Autism Awareness Week. Now in its eighth year, the focus week has grown in profile and popularity over the last few years, and 2015 was no different. With Wednesday 1st April declared ‘Onesie Wednesday’, and a character naming competition, as well as night walks and numerous awareness promoting events, the National Autistic Society led the way. Across the country schools, colleges, youth clubs and community groups following suit, all helping to raise awareness and vital funds to support individuals with autism. But Autism can also have a huge impact on oral hygiene. Today’s article investigates more, and gives some handy advice.
So what is autism? It is a developmental disability which affects a person for the whole of their life. It is described as a spectrum condition, meaning that whilst there are lots of similarities in the areas of difficulty people with this condition experience, they will be affected in different ways and to different degrees. Some people with autism will be able to live relatively independent lives, whereas others may also have accompanying learning disabilities which mean they need a high level of support for all of their lives.
An important area of difficulty that people with autism may experience is over or under sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, lights or colours. As you can imagine, a visit to the dentist requires many of these senses to be employed: from the physical sensation of someone touching your jaw and mouth (and the inside of your mouth!), to the taste of mouthwashes or dental equipment. Consider also the bright light that the dentist shines into your mouth, and the sound of the tools that the dentist uses during their work: even the sound of a particular tool being used in a neighbouring consultation room could be hugely magnified to a person with autism. All in all, a visit to the dentist has the potential to be a very stressful experience for a person with autism.
So how can we make visiting the dentist easier for people with autism? Preparation is vital. Here are some top tips to help you with this:
- Contact your dentist in advance so that they are aware of their patient’s diagnosis.
- Talk to your dentist about specific areas of difficulty. On the National Autistic Society website there is a downloadable checklist you can complete and hand to your dentist to give more information.
- Use photos, pictures and toys (if appropriate) to help explain what the dentist will do and what the appointment will be like.
- Slowly introduce the person with autism to the surgery. This may mean several visits, and opportunities to meet the dental team before the actual appointment.
It may be the case that, despite best efforts, a visit to the dentist may still be too stressful for a person with autism. They may need more specialist support and intervention. A patient’s dentist or doctor is responsible for referring them to a service that meets their needs more fully, if it is deemed that a standard practice is unable to meet their needs. If you are concerned, please speak to your dental team, and an assessment can be made about the best course of action, or any additional measures that can be taken.
For more information about dental care for people to autism, please visit the National Autistic Society website. The British Dental Health Foundation is also a great information source featuring information about dental care for people with special needs.