Bright lights shining in your eyes and a cacophony of sounds inside your mouth—the scraping sound of metal against teeth, drilling of a cavity, x-ray machines and water jets. Not to mention the feelings of all those instruments invading a place as delicate as your mouth. Going to the dentist makes many of us nervous—at the least—so imagine how a child with autism reacts to sitting in a big chair with sensory overload in all directions.
One dental clinic in Santiago, Chile, is using dogs to help children with autism stay calm during their dental visits. According to an article in The Washington Post from the Associated Press, Raul Varela— a father of a child with autism—originated the service when he saw how petting their family dog relaxed his son. After getting certified to train service dogs for children with autism, Varela started an organization specializing in helping clients remain calm during dental visits.
Varela and his therapy dogs aren’t the first group to focus on children with autism getting through a trip to the dentist. Wichita State University’s speech-language hearing clinic also has a program with similar goals. Their approach involves showing kids what to expect in advance to help them stay calm during the appointment.
Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org