I am a Special Care Senior Dental Officer for NHS Highland and I have a special interest in Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a diagnosis of AS myself which give me an insight so I know how difficult it can be for someone to visit services. I was aware that a lot of training is about diagnosis and what to do after diagnosis and there is no so much information on how to transfer that into other disciplines for example when visiting the dentist.
I developed a training programme for use within the NHS Highland Dental Department and this was supported by the Clinical Director. I have delivered the training to over 200 dental staff from Inverness to Wick to Skye. The training was recognised locally by ARGH and NAS and I really feel it’s made a difference. This training has been fed to NEs to help with their development of Autism training.
The training was delivered to all staff, not just the dentists. This includes the receptionists as they are the front line staff and often the first person somebody will see or speak to. It’s them who make the appointments and have to be aware of any special appointment times or specific information like turning off the lights or turning the radios down.
We send out a pack before the appointment with a questionnaire about the person’s likes and dislikes. We also send out items like a mask, gloves and a wee mirror so that the person can have a look at them and feel what they are like beforehand. We also make good use of social stories we’ve developed. These range from fairly simple, general ones like ”This is the building, this is the dentist, this is the room” to more complex ones about specific treatment. We don’t’ just do generic ones but also do personalised ones with photos of the actual patient in the chair or at the front door.
I think it’s really important to make things as multi-disciplinary as possible and we also speak to schools and offer this information to them. I often speak to the learning assistants as they are the ones who work with the children and will know what works and what doesn’t work for each child.
We try to use any special interests a child might have. For example we often give young patients a sticker after they have been to the dentist but this might not be relevant for a young patient with autism so instead we would try and use a special interest they may have.
It’s important that as many member of the team as possible are aware of this. We also have a patient mark where a flag comes up on the screen if that patient has autism and this helps you prepare anything that may be needed for the appointment.
As well as providing training within the Dental Department, I have also delivered talks along the lines of “how to get the best from your dentist” in order to try to enable patients to be more aware of what can be done to support them.
It’s always interesting to see how others see your work and as such I am very pleased to have beennominated as an Autism Champion but I actually just see it as doing my job.