DISCLOSURE:Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.
Depending on where your child falls on the Spectrum, tooth brushing may be a beloved occurrence in your house or a dreaded challenge. Autism spectrum disorder can make oral care more challenging to start and maintain. My first recommendation would be to find a dentist as early as possible to establish that professional relationship with your child very early. My second recommendation would be to start oral care as soon as possible. This is why I advocate for early infant oral care.
Autism is typically not officially diagnosed until later in life, sometimes well after age 5. Suppose an oral care program has been started in infancy. In that case, it is much more likely that an autistic child will continue in the routine of a program that has already been established. However, challenges and circumstances that arrive unexpectedly can quickly alter established routines. ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy is one of the most successful ways I've encountered program compliance with autistic children. Here are some of the highlights that have been shared with me and that I have used with my patients that came from ABA therapy.
ABA therapy techniques for oral care
Discrete trial training can help patients develop social and behavioral skills. The ABA Therapist will provide a cue, ask for the desired behavior, and reward the behavior with positive reinforcement. This is an excellent method for encouraging oral care acceptance at home. The cue can be music, sounds, or something sensory attentive for the individual.
This method involves demonstrating the desired behavior or providing a video/audio example of expectations. Modeling can be demonstrative by providing a way for the autistic individual to perform the intended task on someone or something else. Tooth brushing a favorite toy or teddy bear can be very helpful.
Reinforcement systems teach individuals about the negative consequences of underperforming behaviors. For example; If the individual doesn't engage in the desired behavior, like tooth brushing, prompt them again, and if they continue to resist, withhold reinforcement until the behavior is performed.
Having an understanding of these quick snippets from ABA therapy techniques, you can implement them into a program where you work to accomplish the following. Remember to take it a step at a time and not look at a goal, just progress. Setting a goal can feel defeating when it doesn't happen as quickly as you’d like, so work on progress instead.
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