Understanding the needs of autistic patients


  Posted by: Dental Design      10th April 2020

Autism is one of those conditions that isn’t spoken about enough. Indeed, due to the nature of autism and the different way it presents in individuals, it can be very difficult to tell whether someone is autistic at all, and this can result in those with the condition feeling invisible or unable to speak out. The first week of April is Autism Awareness Week, and this is the ideal opportunity to see if you can make any changes to the way you provide treatment in order to help better accommodate patients with this condition.

Autism is much more common than you would think. In the UK alone it is thought that 1.1% of the population is on the autism spectrum (this includes those with Asperger Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance). This roughly equates to over 730,000 individuals.[i]

Dental appointments can be very stressful for these individuals. This is mainly due to the fact that many autistic people are likely to experience higher levels of anxiety. This may either stem from the way they process information or any potential learning difficulties they have.

One good approach to have with autistic patients is to try to avoid making them wait extended times for their appointment. This waiting period is likely to only enhance feelings of anxiety and stress that they are feeling about the situation, and it’s far better to prioritise these patients where possible instead of them leaving and not receiving any dental care at all. Can you encourage them to book a double appointment so that you have more time to look after them in a more relaxed time-frame? This is a great way to overcome the stress of the high-speed appoint turnaround, and will give you the freedom to properly explain treatment and ensure they have the time they need to process the information you’re giving them.

Communication with autistic individuals really is key. One of the defining features of autism is that these individuals need information to be clear. Explain why you are going to perform each action – for example, when doing a check-up tell them what you are using the mirror for and warn them it may touch the inside of their mouths and be cold. This way you cut out the chances of any nasty surprises which can upset and cause increasing levels of panic. What about presenting treatment information visually? This is another great way to ensure that your autistic patients are fully informed.

Autistic individuals may also be very sensitive to light and noise. Although these issues are harder to overcome, you may be able to make some small changes that help, or provide autistic patients with items such as stress balls or other distractions to see if these make treatment easier for them.

In the end, autistic patients need that extra attention in order to ensure they receive the necessary care in a calm, understanding environment. The changes you make don’t need to be major, and even just extending contact time with these individuals can be hugely helpful moving forwards.


For more information about the BSDHT, please visit www.bsdht.org.uk

call 01788 575050 or email enquiries@bsdht.org.uk


[i] National Autistic Society. Autism Facts and History. Link: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/myths-facts-stats.aspx [Last accessed November 19].

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