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How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

Guest post by Kristine Kenny, MSN, RN, CPN, CAS

Going to the doctors as a child can be a frightening experience for any child, it doesn’t matter whether they have autism or not. Past negative encounters with a medical setting can lead to many fears and anxiety for all children. This can cause undue stress and anxiety for both the child and the parent who is taking them. 

Having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can make going to the doctor’s a huge challenge for parent and child but with some preparation and adaptations the visit can be successful. 

How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

Autism Speaks states it is important for parents to know that outside of autism specialty centers or offices that are specifically tailored with the autistic child in mind- the majority of healthcare providers are not familiar with the special needs of your child with autism. Knowing this knowledge, it should not deter you from taking your child to the doctor for a well visit (check-up) or for a sick visit. All children on the autism spectrum deserve the quality of care and preventative care that is needed to help your child grow and stay healthy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), regular check- ups are an important way to keep track of your child’s health and development. As a parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, it is important to plan ahead and consider some of the following recommendations to make your child’s visit be the best it can be for your child, you and the healthcare provider.

Making the appointment

Some important things to consider when making the appointment are the following.  

  • Try to get the first appointment of the day or
  • The first appointment after lunch of the provider or
  • The last appointment of the day.

The goal of these actions is to avoid unnecessary wait times. Wait times are anxiety producing for all children, add in autism and communication barriers and it is a true recipe for disaster before the appointment has even taken place. If the appointment is after lunch or the last of the day, call before you leave the house to make sure the healthcare provider is running on time. Kindly ask the staff how long the delay is and make your adjusted time based off of that. Inform the office staff of your situation and tell them when you are planning to arrive based on the delay.

Preparing the child prior to the visit


If your child likes books, grab a book about going to the doctors. Make sure the book has pictures and simple language. Children on the autism spectrum benefit greatly from having information presented visually or given to them in a social story format.  Autism Speaks states that visual supports can be a very effective way for children and adults with autism to communicate.

Our recommendation for a book about going to the doctor designed specifically for those on the spectrum is Autism Healthcare Books. We like them because they are designed by a pediatric nurse who is a mom of a child with autism. We also love the visual checklist included in the book. You could use this book or make your own. It doesn’t matter which you choose, what matters is that the book is simple and not overwhelming visually to the child. The goal is for your child to understand what is going to occur during the visit in a simple language with simple pictures.  

How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

Visit the office prior to the visit

Visiting the office with your child prior to visit is a good idea to increase the familiarity of the environment. You could drop in on your own or ask the front office for permission. Another idea is that you could go yourself and take some pictures of the outside of the building, waiting room, etc. to use as references prior to the visit to show your child in the comfort of home to increase understanding visually. The last thing you could consider would be asking for a practice visit with your child in advance. Just a walk-through of the layout could be helpful prior to the actual visit. Base your choice on your child’s needs and ability.

Medical Play

Role-playing with medical tools is another fantastic way to help your child become more comfortable with the procedures and medical equipment used at a doctor’s office. Evidence suggests that medical play is valuable for children to be able to understand medical care and procedures. The repetitiveness of the practice allows the child to gain mastery and build confidence. This in turn, will help decrease anxiety and fear related to these procedures and tasks done by healthcare professionals. There are many different medical toys available. Using real equipment is just as valuable tool for older children if you have access to it. Practice makes perfect in these play situations.

On the Day of the Visit

  • If you have a book that you have been using to prepare your child- bring it with you to the visit. Utilize the book and pictures throughout the visit to remind your child what is happening but also to assist the healthcare providers. Most healthcare providers do not have these visual communication tools readily available to them.
  • Bring anything that you think might help the child keep busy during the wait periods of the visit.
  • You might want to consider a reward for the child getting through the visit and to be given at the end of the visit or shortly after so the child correlates a positive experience with the visit.

How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's

Key Takeaways

Whatever you decide to do to help prepare your child for a doctor visit, keep the saying progress not perfection in mind. Each child has different levels of fear and anxiety based on their own personal experiences, do what works individually for your child. Celebrate the wins one step at a time. The end goal is for your child to be seen to make sure he/she is growing and developing appropriately. It is also for your child to receive the preventative type of care that is needed for your child to live a healthy life. The APA states these visits are a chance to learn as much as you can about the best ways to help your child grow and thrive 

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Kris is a mom of 3, one of whom has autism. She is a pediatric nurse, assistant nursing professor and author. When she has free time, she enjoys exercising, baking and binge watching TV series. Learn more about her at Autism Healthcare Books!

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