Navigating Specialist Appointments As A Special Needs Parent



Photo by Syda Productions

When you are a special needs parent, you know that going to specialist appointments comes with this life. In this post I am going to share some tips and tricks that I have learned and that have been shared with me.

First of all, I absolutely love Children’s of Alabama. I know that may be strange to say but the majority of our specialists are there. Emmett’s got an Endocrinologist, Urologist, Gastrologist, ENT, Allergist, Audiologist, Geneticist, and Pulmonologist all within the same area. We have been to the emergency room a few times and outpatient surgery. So yes, I am definitely familiar with this amazing place, if a little lost remembering where to go exactly. I will say I do get my steps and cardio in.

Reducing Anxiety all Around

Many special needs parents know the anxiety of going to a specialist appointment and being unsure of what to do. It is very intimidating going into these appointments with our children who are usually already upset (or at least anxious). I have learned through trial and error. These tips have worked for us, but I cannot guarantee they will work for all children. Every child is different when it comes to coping skills and adapting to a new situation. For some children, it is best to show them what is going to happen and proceed forward. Yet others need to just jump in feet first. For Emmett, I do a mixture of both, depending which specialist we are visiting.

Call Ahead

One thing I cannot stress enough is to take the extra step to call ahead and inform the office that your child is special needs. Then, be sure to follow up at check-in. This will do so much good! Forewarned is always forearmed in these situations. Calling ahead allows staff to prepare, and, if possible, have employees available who understand the situation.

Keep the Information to a Minimum

I never tell Emmett what is going to happen the next day. I’ve found that it simply causes too much anxiety. Often, I will wait until we get to the appointment to tell him. He is pretty observant however, so he realizes very quickly what is going on once our routine changes. Once we get to the doctor, I bring up autism, always.

The triage can be hit or miss. Emmett’s getting better at letting them check his height and weight. Blood pressure and oxygen are often difficult. When we get in an exam room, I calmly explain to him—so the staff can hear—what they are going to do. It is always better that he does not see the equipment. (I don’t want to see the equipment at my own doctor’s visits, either!)

Provide Rewards

Overall, our doctors are fantastic at meeting him on his level; they will sometimes even let him listen to their hearts! Stickers, his tablet, our usual visit to Burger King, and the occasional treat at Dunkin’ Donuts have all helped sweeten these appointments by giving him something to look forward to. 

It has taken us almost five years to get to where we are now. Emmett’s been going to specialist appointments since he was one week old. So, know that none of this progress happened overnight. Forewarning staff, coming prepared with a backpack full of sensory items, and trying to stay as calm as possible have all helped us tremendously. Videos about the doctor’s office are great and can easily be found on YouTube. Also, being prepared to tweak our methods of approach is key. I know all of this can sound daunting, but I promise it is doable!

Do you have any tips for doctor visits with your special little one? Share them below!


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