Helping Autistic Children Prepare For Orthodontics: Advice For Parents

Experts estimate that autism now affects 1 in 68 American children. This increasingly common developmental disability can lead to a wide range of symptoms, but many autistic children experience sensory processing issues. These issues can make it difficult for children to cope with certain medical interventions, including orthodontics. Learn more about the issues autistic children face with orthodontics, and find out what you can do to help prepare your son or daughter for treatment.

About sensory processing disorder

Research suggests that sensory processing disorder (or SPD) affects around 1 in 6 children, but autistic kids are more likely to suffer from this condition. With SPD, a child's brain doesn't organize sensory signals from other parts of the body in an appropriate way.

Children with SPD find it hard to process and deal with the information their senses receive. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical contact can all lead to responses that vary from what you might expect. As such, common symptoms of the disorder include anxiety, depression and motor clumsiness.

Many autistic children are hypersensitive. For these kids, the slightest sensation can become distressing. As such, it's often difficult for a doctor or dentist to treat these children. Orthodontic interventions are often particularly tricky to manage.

Deciding if orthodontics are the right solution

There are conflicting studies concerning dental health issues in autistic children, but some research suggests that these kids are more likely to suffer from problems like tooth decay. Nonetheless, autistic children will sometimes find it difficult to keep up even a basic dental hygiene routine because of sensory processing issues.

Crooked or crowded teeth can become increasingly problematic as a child ages, so it's important to seek the advice of an orthodontist. He or she can recommend different solutions according to the symptoms, but it's also crucial to discuss the feasibility of working with an autistic child with severe SPD.

For some children, your orthodontist may recommend that you wait until the child is older and can more easily cope with the treatment. This isn't always an easy decision. For example, an orthodontist will often recommend that certain treatments are easier during childhood while the bone is still soft, but if you don't believe your son or daughter can cope with the relevant orthodontic intervention, you may decide to wait. Always ask your orthodontist to explain the risks and benefits in every case.

Steps parents can take

If you agree with your orthodontist that treatment is the best option, there are plenty of steps you can take to help your son or daughter cope. Of course, the actions you take will vary according to the severity of your child's SPD, but you and your orthodontist can tailor the approach appropriately.

It's important to give your child as much information as possible about what to expect. It's unlikely that you can go into too much detail! Autistic children often want to discuss and explore the minute details of a situation, so patience is a must. Of course, if you don't know the answer to a question, speak to your orthodontist.

For example, you may not know how it feels to have an impression tray in your mouth or how the orthodontist will use these devices. In fact, orthodontists may work differently, so it's generally a good idea to get your facts. Remember also that pictures of these devices may seem intimidating, so think carefully about how to approach the subject.

You can also desensitize your child's mouth with a gentle finger massage. This action can help your son or daughter grow accustomed to the sensation of the dentist's fingers and instruments.

It's often useful to arrange a pre-appointment visit to the orthodontist's practice before the treatment starts. During this session, allow your son or daughter to touch equipment and move around the surgery, investigating at his or her own pace. Meeting the orthodontist once or twice before treatment is also useful. Check if your orthodontist has experience of working with children with SPD, as this can also make the process easier.

Sensory processing disorder commonly affects autistic children, and this condition can make it difficult to undergo orthodontic treatment. Talk to your local orthodontist for more advice and support. For more information, consider sites like