Amazing Dentist Does “Practice Visits” for Children with Autism to Help Reduce Their Anxiety

There are lots of ways that people with autism make the world a better place. One way autism has improved our society is by helping the people around them realize that simple changes can really make a huge difference for people with special needs.

For Dr. Stephanie Cavallaro, it was her son’s autism diagnosis that opened her eyes to the difference she could make in her community as a dentist.

“Before my son was diagnosed with autism, there were a lot of misunderstandings that I had about it,” says Dr. Cavallaro. “It was an opportunity for me to open my eyes and learn from him every day.”

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Now Dr. Cavallaro offers “practice” visits to her patients with autism and other special needs. These visits are a perfect opportunity to help develop healthy dental habits and to prepare kids for what it will be like to have their teeth cleaned and inspected at their real visit.

Practice visits are perfect for children (and adults!) with a wide variety of special needs and conditions, such as anxiety, autism, and cognitive disabilities.

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Dr. Cavallaro has one patient named Jackson, for example, who has really benefited from practice visits. Jackson is nonverbal and doesn’t understand everything that people say to him, so a simple explanation of what’s going to happen during a teeth cleaning isn’t enough for him. But Dr. Cavallaro has lots of tools that help her show and tell Jackson what’s going on.

“Everything from the waiting room, the PPE we’re going to be wearing, the instruments we use,” Dr. Cavallaro says. “And of course, the thumbs up and the prize at the end of the visit for a job well done.”

A job well done is defined differently for every patient. Some of them can’t make it past the waiting room, but that’s a great success if they’ve never been able to make it that far before.

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“There’s something to be said for that,” says Nicole, Jackson’s mother. “They’re used to dealing with other kids on the spectrum, and you just need to be patient. Not everybody has that skill.”

One of Dr. Cavallaro’s favorite teaching tools is a stuffed dinosaur (and a toothbrush, of course).

“A stuffed animal is a great way to show what we’re about to do,” Dr. Cavallaro says. “It’s also a fun way for kids to practice brushing teeth.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/WavebreakmediaMicro

At their practice appointment, the children’s families are given a visual packet with information and photos of what a trip to the dentist looks like. This allows them to review the process with their children beforehand.

The practice visits are offered free of charge on Fridays from May through September so that families struggling with their finances are not forced to waive the beneficial pre-visits that help their kids succeed at the real visit. A partnership with FEAT of CNY, Callimus Dental Associates, and Proud Moments makes it possible for Dr. Cavallaro to continue offering free visits.

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