There are many misinformed and judgmental people that Matt and I have encountered in his 7 1/2 years of life. There will be more. Most of the time, these people will catch you off-guard. Often times I will say to myself, “If anybody has any problem with my child, I dare them to bring it on! I dare them! They will be sorry!” I am finding more often than not, it’s not necessary for me to carry that chip on my shoulder. It’s not my personality either……..most of the time. But when I do find myself in a situation where there is insensitivity and ignorance, I freeze and shut down. Kind of like this computer does. Then after processing the events, I have all these clever things I wish I would have said during that time. Here is a story Iwould like to share. Sure, it might be a little lengthy but you better read it! There’s a pop-quiz at the end 😉
A few years ago I took Alec and Matt to a pediatric dentist. Alec had been there before but this was a first for Matt. I spent weeks preparing him for the visit because I knew it would be a very difficult thing for him. I also called the dentist’s office to explain the situation with Matthew. “He has autism and high anxiety issues.” I explained his sensitivities to lights and noise. The receptionist said that she would arrange for him to be seen in a quiet isolated room in the corner so that he wouldn’t be overstimulated by all the other children and the noise. I was thrilled with the idea. I asked her if she could please prepare the doctor and the hygienists who would be working with him. She said she would.
Four days before the visit: I called the office to ask if they might have any questions about Matt so that we could make this visit as successful as possible. The receptionist (a different one, I assume) replied “Questions regarding what?” I went over the story again about Matt with her and asked her to please prepare the staff for him.
The day before the visit: I received a confirmation call regarding the appointment. I asked what the small examination room that they were going to provide for Matthew looked like so that I could prepare him. The receptionist replied. “I don’t know anything about that.” I was surprised but then again….not so much. After patiently explaining things for the 3rd time, I was sure everybody was on board.
The appointment: Alec was first to be seen. The pediatric dental office looked like a fun children’s museum. 100% dedicated to kids. The examination room was an impressive large bright room with dental chairs lined up next to each other. The walls were splattered with colorful wall art. And mounted on the ceiling for your child’s viewing pleasure was a flat screen tv. One for each chair. The children even get to choose the movie that they want to watch. A perfect place for kids like Alec. I sat there with Matt on my lap as we watched them work on Alec. I explained to Matt step-by-step what they were doing. Matt was nervous. Matt repeatedly would say “I don’t want to!” I provided him with a squishy sensory toy but he wanted nothing to do with it. Instead he squeezed my hand. I noticed the hygienist would look back at him several times. She didn’t really say anything to him. I explained that he was over-stimulated because of the lights. I felt he was getting ready to panick.
Matt’s turn: “Nooo! I don’t want to!” Matt yelled in a panick when the hygienist tried to coax him into the chair. “Matthew, look! You can watch ‘Finding Nemo’.”, she said pointing up to the tv on the ceiling. “Noo! i dont’ want to!”, he screamed. She kept looking at me and appeared helpless. I told her, “The receptionist told me by phone that he could be seen in an isolated room. I think that would calm his nerves.” The hygienist replied that the room was unavailable. Hmmm, what a shock.
Matt’s crying was getting louder. Then he began kicking his legs. “I want home!”, he wailed.
“Matthew, I will sit in the chair and you can sit on my lap.” I said. He didn’t protest as I picked him up and sat him on my lap. The hygienist was ok with this but she did mention that he would not be able to sit on my lap when the time comes to do x-rays. I looked at her and said “I think its safe to say that he won’t cooperate with the x-rays.” She nodded in agreement. We were barely able to get him to open his mouth.
“Matthew, we’re going to clean your teeth.” She told him as she held up the spinning toothbrush. “Do you want to cherry or cinnamon?”
“I want car!”, he shouted pointing in the direction of the parking lot. I couldn’t help but notice the other compliant children quietly sitting in their examining chairs looking at him. So were their parents. Matt’s crying was becoming even louder.
The only thing that Matt would allow the hygienist to do was brush his teeth with a regular toothbrush and floss his bottom teeth. He was on sensory over-load and terrified. He knew everyone was staring at him which made him feel even worse. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Doctor’s turn: So in walks the dentist, Dr Wonderful (We’ll just call him that for now). He’s the same friendly guy who worked on Alec. He is quite a charmer, this dentist. The kids seem to love him. Clearly he has a gift working with kids…………working with neuro-typical kids.
By the time Dr, Wonderful walks over, Matt’s face is streaked with tears and he’s doing that hiccup thing that babies do when they cry hard.
“Hey Matthew, what’s wrong, buddy?” He asked. The crying starts up again. The hygienist is clearly looking flustered. “Where do you go to school, Matt?”, the doctor asked. No response. “How are your teeth, Matt? Does it hurt when you eat things that are cold?”, he asked. No response. Dr. Wonderful looks at me. “He’s pretty shy, isn’t he?”. Here we go again. “He has autism”, I said. Dr. Wonderful looks at Matt’s chart. “Oh, ok. I see now”. He said. Does this office lack communication skills, or what?!
The hygienist filled Dr. Wonderful in on what we were able to accomplish with Matt….which wasn’t much. “Ok, Matt let me look in your mouth.” The crying starts up again. Dr. Wonderful puts his fingers in Matt’s mouth and Matt’s crying turns to screaming. I repeatedly tried distracting Matt by reminding him of the yummy french fries we were going to get at McDonalds when we were done. It didnt’ work. He became louder and louder. Dr. Wonderful was getting pretty frustrated. “At this point, all I can do is count his teeth.”, he sighed. ” He won’t even let me examine them.”
Then it happened. As Dr Wonderful removed his hands out of Matt’s mouth, Matt slowly bit down on the tips of Dr. Wonderful’s gloves. I saw the latex material stretch as he moved them away from Matt’s mouth. It was like extreme slow motion.Then Matt let go. Dr. Wonderful put his face in Matt’s face and yelled, “DON’T YOU TRY TO BITE ME!!!”. This wasn’t a stern scolding voice. This was yelling. The room got quiet. Matt got quiet, but for only a second. He began wailing. Dr. Not-So-Wonderful excused himself to help another patient because apparently we were taking up way too much of his time. “I will be back in a few minutes.”, he said and walked off.
Matt was shaking by this point. The hygienist didn’t say a word to us. She left to do something else. Matt’s screaming out of control, despite all my efforts to calm him. People were staring and the staff practically disappeared. What am I suppose to do? I was so shaken by the Dr. Not-So-Wonderful-Jerk-Face screaming at Matt. I felt frozen. I felt sad. I know that it has to be very frustrating for doctors when the children attempt to bite. Nobody wants to get bit. Truth is, Matt didn’t even bite down on his fingers. Just the tips of his gloves. Did he have to scream at him? I looked around the large room. There were several kids in it with their parents. There were several hygienists and dental assistants in the big room helping other people. I felt so completely alone. I picked up Matthew and turned around and grabbed Alec’s hand. “Come one”, I said. “Let’s go.” I walked at a fast pace with the boys on the way to out of the lobby. “Ma’am!” said the receptionist. “Don’t you want to schedule a follow-up?”
I couldnt’ even get the words out right away. I stuck my sunglasses on, turned around and to face the receptionist. “No, I don’t.”, I said. And I walked out. Matt was still crying and I was too. I remember passing this lady on the way out of my car. She could tell I was upset but she offered me a very sympathetic smile. I will never forget that.
Once we got in the car, I bawled for probably about 10 minutes. Matt was done crying at this point. Then Alec spoke up. “Mom, will it make you feel better if I share my McDonalds french fries with you?”
………Ok so there’s no pop-quiz. But thank for reading anyway! 🙂