A family stands in the lobby of Camillus Dental Associates, it’s their second trip, but 5-year-old Jackson is not here for cavities.
Mom and dad by his side, this appointment is a test run to help Jackson get used to the office.
Jackson is autistic — on top of that, he’s nonverbal. Explaining the process of getting his teeth cleaned doesn’t do the trick. Thankfully, his dentist has a lot of experience with kids just like him.
“Before my son was diagnosed with autism, there were a lot of misunderstandings that I had about it,” says dentist Stephanie Cavallaro. “It was an opportunity for me to open my eyes and learn from him every day.”
The practice appointments don’t include a cleaning, but they do get creative to build better habits that kids and adults with autism can use at home.
“A stuffed animal is a great way to show what we’re about to do,” Cavallaro says, picking up a stuffed Dinosaur and a toothbrush. “It’s also a fun way for kids to practice brushing teeth.”
Families also get a visual packet of what a trip to the dentist looks like, so when it comes time for the real visit, they can review beforehand.
“Everything from the waiting room, the PPE we’re going to be wearing, instruments we use,” Cavallaro says, flipping through the pages. “And of course, the thumbs up and the prize at the end of the visit for a job well done.”
A job well done can mean anything. If a kid doesn’t make it past the waiting room, than just getting though the door was a success.
“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.”
The practice appointments are no-cost, and open to anyone, not just patients of the practice. The program is made possible through a partnership with FEAT of CNY, Camillus Dental Associates and Proud Moments.
Appointments are available on Friday’s from May through September. If you are interested in signing up, send an email to AliciaMorris@FeatOfCNY.org.