Make the Most of Medical Visits for Your Nonverbal Child
September 06, 2023
Imagine being sick and not being able to tell people how you feel. That’s stressful for a child who is nonverbal. And it’s challenging for the health care team, too. It is harder to pinpoint an illness when the patient can’t explain what hurts.
“As a parent, you can be the link between your child and health care providers,” says Nellie Coughlin CNP, senior nurse practitioner at the UH Rainbow Center for Comprehensive Care. Coughlin offers some helpful tips for parents to get the most out of both routine and sick-child appointments.
Introduce Your Child to New Providers
Coughlin advises that parents prepare their child and their health care team in advance of a visit to the doctor. “You know what puts your child at ease. And you know what triggers problem behaviors,” says Coughlin. “Share this information with the health care team.”
The following steps will help everyone feel more prepared:
- Call ahead. Talk with the staff about accommodations your child may need. Some nurses have specific skills in caring for patients with special needs. Ask if there are nurses specializing in the care of nonverbal children with special needs.
- Bring a comfort object. Many children have an item, such as a favorite blanket or toy that helps them feel calm.
- Consider using rewards. Providing a small reward at different stages during a medical visit may help keep things moving smoothly. For example, your child might get one small reward after having their vitals checked and another after having blood drawn. You know better than anyone what motivates your child.
- Share triggers. You can also let the staff know those specific triggers for your child such as some children don’t like to have their hair or ears touched. Some children are sensitive to their feeding tube being touched. Providing this kind of information make all the difference to have a successful appointment.
- Establish a consistent care team. Going to the same practice or provider establishes longevity which can be very beneficial, as children love familiarity and are comforted by knowing their environment, the people and what to expect.
Let Your Child Know What to Expect
For many nonverbal children, a visual schedule can be very helpful. Include pictures for key steps in the visit, like pictures for the weight check, the height check, the blood pressure check, and so on.
Social stories are another useful tool. These are simple stories explaining what happens in social situations, such as going to see a health care provider. They are designed to help kids with autism and other special needs understand how they are expected to behave in that setting.
“It may be easier to provide this kind of support when your child sees the same health care team regularly,” advises Nellie. “This is what we call having a medical home. It isn’t a place. Instead, it’s a way of providing your child with care.”
A medical home involves building a trusting relationship between your family and a health care team. This includes the preventive, primary, and specialty care providers you see regularly.
Over time, the health care team gets to know your child. You feel comfortable sharing concerns and asking questions. And your child feels understood. This type of care will be the most productive over the long term.
University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s has a wide network of highly skilled pediatricians at convenient locations across the region. Our specialists have the advanced training and experience to care for children of all ages and provide parents with the support and encouragement they need. Learn more.