How to Take the Worry Out of Appointments with Your ASD Child

Do you dread taking your child with ASD to the dentist? Is a trip to get a haircut out of the question?
Try using the 3 P’s: Pretend, Practice, and Pair to take the sting out of necessary outings. With a little time and preparation, kids on the spectrum of all ages and skill levels can learn to tolerate these and other difficult appointments.


  1. Pretend: Start with acting out the challenging situation on a regular basis. Get a toy dentist or doctor kit and take turns with your child pretending to be the doctor/patient or dentist/patient. Recruit siblings, favorite stuffed animals, or family members to join in the fun.  Make a visual schedule to use during the play-acting so that you can use it for the actual activity later.
  2. Practice: How often does your child go into the dentist’s office? Probably when he has an appointment, right?  Generally these visits are few enough that the situation feels unfamiliar and possibly has negative connotations from a previous (sometimes traumatic) experience.  Talk to the office about visiting a few times leading up to a regular appointment.  Have the child interact with the receptionist, meet the doctor or hair-stylist, and sit in the chair or lie down on the table.  Familiarity can make the experience more understandable and less scary for a child.
  3. Pair: Your child may be associating a trip to the doctor with a painful shot or a hair-cut with loud clippers.  During the practice phases, start pairing the visit with something more pleasurable that he only gets to have while the appointment is going on.  For instance, bring a favorite book or character and let the child hold it while sitting in the dentist chair and then remove it when you have the child get out of the chair.  Or let the child play a preferred iPad game while you acclimate them to the clippers noise and then remove the game when you turn the clippers off.  Your child will start to associate the dentist, doctor, or hair-cut with a much more fun activity.

The 3 P’s can be modified to improve your child’s experience with any challenging, infrequent activity like getting a picture with Santa, going on an airplane, or whatever!

A Child’s Potential, Inc. is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) tax exempt organization committed to teaching families living with autism strategies to improve their children’s social, play, and communication skills so they can participate more fully in family and community life.

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This article was featured in Issue 38 – Keeping ASD Kids Healthy

Gabi Morgan

Gabi Morgan, MS, the founder and director of A Child's Potential has been working with children on the autism spectrum for over 20 years using the principles of applied behavior analysis with an emphasis on respect for the child and the family. She founded A Child's Potential, Inc. with the idea that as children move through their development, professionals may come and go, but the families want and need the skills to maximize their children's potentials throughout their lives. For additional strategies:

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