With an upcoming eye exam, a mother was determined to help her son be as relaxed as possible in order to have a successful exam.
A concerned parent contacted me about her 4-year-old’s anxiety regarding an upcoming eye exam. She explained that he is on the autism spectrum, and becomes extremely distressed with medical appointments and new environments. She described his most recent visits to the dentist and audiologist as disastrous, as he continuously screamed and cried uncontrollably. With an upcoming eye exam, she was determined to help him be as relaxed as possible in order to have a successful exam.
I suggested it might be helpful to simulate the experience of going to an eye doctor, in order to prepare him for what he might see or be expected to do. She made an appointment to bring him into my office, and I prepared for his visit. I gathered child-sized sunglasses, eyeglass frames without lenses, binoculars, a small pen flash light, and multiple vision test charts designed for children with symbols instead of letters.
When he arrived, I was ready for his visit. I introduced myself and invited him to sit next to my soft black bear that was waiting on the chair. When he sat down with his new friend, I asked him if he knew why he was visiting me. He said I was going to look at his eyes. I showed him everything I had gathered; the two pair of glasses, the binoculars, the flashlight and the eye charts. I gently touched his ears and whispered that he needed to pop on his best listening ears. We proceeded as if he were going through his real eye exam. We talked about the doctor who would ask him to do many of the same things at his next visit. I asked if he was ready for that appointment, and, he said he was, so I gave him the eye charts to take home, which would enable him to practice and become comfortable in preparation for his real appointment.
When my children were young they each had a medical kit that contained a toy stethoscope, thermometer, a shot dispenser (without the needle) and Band-Aids. We used their medical kits when they fell or got a scrape, and before each visit to the pediatrician we took turns giving each other checkups, which helped them become comfortable with what they might encounter. They carried their medical kits to their appointments, and our wonderful pediatrician always allowed them to give him a checkup before he opened his medical bag, remarking that he thought it was great that each of my children were so comfortable in his office.
Purchasing medical kits and practicing with your child before an upcoming appointment is something any parent can do to help a child prepare for an upcoming appointment. And the 4-year-old’s eye exam? I followed up with the boy’s parent. He was completely cooperative, accepting that the lights would go out and that there would be flashes of light directed toward his eyes. He answered all the questions and read the charts. He was comfortable enough in the exam to be diagnosed with an astigmatism, which will need to be closely monitored over the years, but he is now prepared for many of those appointments to come.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator. Find additional parenting resources at her website, www.yourperfectchild.com.