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By Dr. Greg GrilloAs a dentist that works with special needs patients, I have personally seen how difficult a dental visit can be. However, with experience and cooperation with parents and guardians, I have also discovered how important preparation is for a special needs child to have the best dental visit possible.
When speaking to parents about their loved ones, there are some common elements that contribute to success at the dentist’s office. Good oral health and hygiene are essential to the well-being and success of any child and will pay dividends at the dentist office. I also suggest planned activity training - it has shown to be an effective means to prepare for an activity and will encourage good behavior. Another key is to find the right dentist; one that is compassionate and competent, one that has experience working with children with Autism or Down Syndrome.
What Is the Temperament of the Dentist?
Finding the right temperament in the dentist is because you seek a practitioner who specializes in working wiht special needs children. Certified dentists have spent an additional 3 years learning how to properly care for your loved one. If you are unable to find a special needs dentist, ask your friends, ask your dentist, call around. Find someone that is receptive to treating your loved one. Finding someone that understands your child’s needs, establishes a good rapport, and is patient and receptive will make the experience more beneficial as well as more pleasant. Whether you find a special needs dentist or not, you are going to want to communicate with your dentist what needs your loved one has, and what to expect.
Applying “planned activity training” (PAT) to prepare your child for the hardship of the dentist will be helpful. Incorporating this approach broadly well before seeing the dentist will make the dentist seem less startling and uncomfortable. PAT is a way to communicate with your loved one what exactly they can expect. I encourage you to do research on this technique.
Practice Through Play at Home
Start by preparing the child mentally and physically. For especially difficult settings make sure they are well-fed, have had adequate sleep and have everything they need. Bring something pleasant to occupy them during downtime. Explain the activity and the rules of behavior for that activity. Without being deceitful, try to exclude or diminish the unsavory elements of going to the dentist. If the opportunity is there, perhaps allow your loved one to see you having your teeth cleaned so they will be more comfortable and understand that it is not a punishment, but something even you must do. Explain rewards they may expect for good behavior and try to give choices whenever possible to allow the child to have some degree of investment in the activity. For the dental visit, highlight the fact they could choose the flavor of their toothpaste perhaps. Applying this approach seems to make the experience more pleasant for everyone.
If your loved one doesn’t already, establish routine brushing, flossing and the use of mouthwash as well. If your loved one has issues with these, do not force them, rather, consider teaching by example or incorporating positive reinforcement. Make dental hygiene a fun bonding experience. Make sure to comment on the benefits of brushing to protect their beautiful smile. Let them choose a flavor of mouthwash, toothpaste, and floss. Maybe play a favorite song of theirs to make it a more joyful activity and to cue when they have brushed long enough (a song around 2 mins). Make a fun activity out of oral hygiene and make that the routine. If they do not engage themselves, make yourself a visible and continual example and they are likely to join in. Once they begin to practice a good routine make sure you continue to reinforce their adherence to that routine, keep it fun and never diminish the accomplishment of maintaining a healthy mouth.
A happy child is a healthy child. Do not neglect or diminish the importance that oral health plays in the overall happiness of your loved one. With a proactive attitude, some effort and the right dentist, your child can benefit from a dental visit without a struggle.
For further information regarding dentistry for autistic patients, check out
For downs syndrome,
Dr. Greg spent graduated with honors from the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington. He joined the United States Navy and served for 4 years and then returned home to join the practice of his farther Dr. Jerry Grillo. Dr Greg enjoys working as a dentist, writing about dentistry and spending quality time with his family.
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“Play is a uniquely adaptive act, not subordinate to some other adaptive act; but with a special function of its own in human experience.”
Families with children with behavioral disorders...
...may not remember how to play, have fun, and spend peaceful times with each other. Rather, energy is spent in repeating relationships.
When I step in to coach this type of family, who have forgotten, the concept of joy and family time is often painfully absent. Rather, focus is shaped amidst the turmoil and enormous energy spent caring for a child with difficult behaviors.
As parents practice new skills to calm their internal landscapes as well as the environments of their homes, they must also re-learn how to have fun. A vital part of healing the family is reintroducing fun, connective activities, joy and humor into the schedule. A new module in the Coaching Families With Special Needs In Behavioral Regulation provides practical information to help coaches and parents co-create a plan for repairing relationships through family fun.
The other day, when I was in town, I witnessed a shocking event. A funeral procession was slowly making its way down Main Street.. The hearse appeared to have engine trouble at the top of the hill. Suddenly, the back doors of the hearse burst open, and the coffin flew out the back of the vehicle! A few people screamed as the coffin skidded down the street and crashed into a pharmacy at the bottom of the hill. Remarkably, it came to a stop right in front of the pharmacist’s desk. In a flash the lid popped open, and the guy inside asked the pharmacist, “Doctor, doctor! Can you give me something to stop this awful coffin?”
NOTE: What just happened in your brain and body?
Some significant processes occurred in your neurophysiology that have the power to alter not only the way you feel, but also your perception and outlook on past, present, and future situations.
How does the joke relate to self-regulation and repairing family relationships?
[ctt template="5" link="ueYc6" via="yes" ]Laughter IS the best medicine. No, really! It’s true. We had a decent laugh over the joke I just told, and each of you are still benefiting from its effects. @parent_coach[/ctt]
Laughter and humor cause the brain to release ‘feel-good’ endorphins that flood bodies and minds with well-being. Laughter causes us to breathe deeper and fills our lungs and bodies with stress busting oxygen. The wonderful combination of endorphins and oxygen culminates in a feeling of happiness.
Studies conducted by the Mayo Clinic as recently as 2013, show that laughter and smiling relieves depression, anxiety, and helps the body to produce natural painkillers. Additionally, positive self-affirming thoughts, release neuropeptides that improve our immune systems and help us fight stress. This strikes at the heart of our topic.
Neuropeptides make it easier for us to cope in difficult situations. Here are the chemical reactions we WANT to occur more regularly in the brains and bodies of disorganized and dysregulated families and children. This is just the prescription families need to coax them back to emotional balance and relationship; only, they do not know if you are a parenting coach, who arrives to model and teach this concept.
[ctt template="5" link="bza94" via="yes" ]Now, here is the challenge. How do you coach the long-suffering, overwhelmed parents to initiate a plan to have fun while they are still suffering the after effects of secondary trauma and high stress? @parent_coach[/ctt]
Here are some of the challenges you face.
- Some parents do not believe they will ever have fun or smile again.
- Others ache to smile light-heartedly and long to regain some of their previous carefree lives.
- Some parents have convinced themselves that a strict schedule where the child accounts for every minute of the day is the only sane way to keep their child on the straight and narrow; therefore, they do not have time for fun.
- Others are resentful and angry because of the extreme difficulties a behavioral child brings to the family dynamic, resulting in radical changes in lifestyle.
- Parents, brothers and sisters have learned to live compartmentalized and disjointed lives in the chaos and conflict that sometimes ensues when living with a child with disruptive behaviors.
All of these caregivers may believe the simple pleasures of life are long lost. It is likely that none of them know how to break current ingrained negative patterns of interacting and bring family together again in playful ways.
Been There Too!
Referring to my personal experience, I recall feeling old, tired, depleted, and played out. (No pun intended!) However, the words of George Bernard Shaw are appropriate here:, “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
We know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and this is true for parents and kids alike. The ramifications of a life without the emotional glue of experiencing happiness, love and joyful interactions with those persons who mean the most to us are profoundly limiting.
So, how do we draw our hard pressed and pressured caregivers out of their old paradigms and beliefs and into the lighter side of life? Here is the four step secret formula to help families begin to have fun together, even while dark clouds linger.
- Administer fun in small measured daily doses.
- Monitor frequently for signs of heightened stress or conflict.
- Troubleshoot prevention, intervention, and exit and salvage strategies with parents should activities show signs of spiraling downward.
- Reflection of the effects on each family member is encouraged.
How can a consultant or coach help us adjust our mindset for more positive outcomes? it is the half-full or half-empty glass kind of metaphor...
Negativity can discourage us:
- add to our stress,
- put a strain on our relationship,
- make us less productive, and
- reduce our overall happiness.
A positive mindset, on the other hand, has many benefits across our lives regarding our health, relationships, and careers.
But, how do you become more positive? Is it that simple? Take a moment to listen to this brief audio reminder:
Five steps to developing a more positive mindset:
1. Keep a thought journal
If you have a negative internal dialogue continually keeping you down, you need to take action to banish these thoughts. If you have difficulty identifying this negativity a simple first action can be keeping a thought journal. Write down a random sample of ideas in your mind about yourself, events, people around you, and other events that happen throughout your day.
Then analyze these thoughts by reviewing the journal every night and establishing your thought patterns towards a positive mindset.
Do specific events trigger your negative thoughts? Take note of these and the next time you face a triggering situation, review carefully how you are approaching it.
2. Banish negative self-talk
After keeping track of your thoughts for a week or two, you will notice how consuming your negative thoughts can be. The next step is to banish these all together. Next time you write down negative thoughts in your journal, rephrase the wording so that it becomes a neutral statement.
"Bob forgot to take out the trash again so I had to do it and it ruined my evening."
“Bob forgot to take out the trash. I did it. instead."
This step is a small but effective way to train yourself. Don’t do this exercise only on paper or in your journal. Begin to rephrase your negative thoughts into neutral phrases in your mind. The practice will become automatic and significantly reduces your anxiety.
3. See the positive side
To jump straight from negative into positive thoughts is a challenge and the reason why the neutral-thought stage is crucial. By banishing negative self-talk, you are in an excellent position to see different, genuine positivity in situations.
Refer back to your thought journal and examine again the negative thoughts you have had. For each negative view, can you transform it into at least one positive, upbeat equivalent?
For example, if you dislike a person because they speak poorly to you, think about how you are developing more resilience. What is the positive from that contrary position?
It can be hard to find benefits within challenging circumstances, but there is always a way to see something good.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort.” Sometime, a lot of effort might be required, but it’s worth it!
4. Keep a gratitude journal
A gratitude journal is an incredible way to take stock of all of the beautiful things around you. Every evening you write down the sound, positive aspects of your day. In general, what are you grateful for and why?
Perhaps you are grateful to your friends for their support, for the warm bed where you sleep well, or for the great weather you had that day. Write down all the positives.
When I started a gratitude journal, I found my mind arguing with me and contradicting my positive statements. What I learned from exploring this is when I don't sleep well, the mind complains the next day without fail. Further research indicated that this is a typical pattern, but few people recognize the link between lack of sleep and mental angst or complaints.
5. Learn your sleep habits
This is a sure-fire way to re-ground you, make you gain perspective and make you realize how insignificant that particular trigger may be in the larger scheme of things. Context is essential, so keep shifting your mind towards the positive.
Practicing these four simple thoughts can help you transform how you perceive the world around you. Positive perception has the power to change your life, improving your attitudes and the ways that you respond to stress triggers.[Be patient and keep working at positivity, as it has so many benefits for your life, so make the most of it!