When I was an impressionable teen I remember my father telling me, “Find out what it is you love to do in life. Then, figure out a way to make money doing that thing. Don’t worry so much about the amount of money you may or may not make. Your life will be fulfilled with as much or as little by doing the thing you love to do.”
He’s so wise.
I’m loving life right now. Seriously…loving life.
It’s true – I love teaching and it has always been my passion, but over the past three months I have had an amazing opportunity. It all began by a crossing of paths. A gentleman thought I knew some stuff and was able to communicate well. This combined with a passion he had for dentistry. (Side note – I really dislike going to the dentist.) We worked together to create a dental kit and an hour-long training for practices.
In the past six weeks I have trained four dental practices on how to serve the Autism Spectrum population more effectively. I have much hope – much, much, much hope. These audiences of dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists, and office staff were so incredibly welcoming. They wanted to know more – they recognized how important the ‘tools’ were that we introduced.
So – what exactly did we do?
- Invited all staff to an hour-long lunch and learn. During this hour we discussed sensory differences, communication differences, relationships differences – but most importantly, we discussed how we all have ‘spectrum tendencies’ (tags on shirts, eating mushy food, bright lights, too much noise, etc.) and how each person on the spectrum is unique. So…the best thing each practice can do? Simply open lines of communication to talk about specific needs/preferences.
- Put together a set of flashcards for each practice. They were personalized to the practice itself -all staff members with their pictures, their ‘job,’ and a description of what they do. The set includes dental tools and descriptions. We laminated one set to leave in the office, and others to send home with families.
- A toolkit – errr…actually a toolbag. A bag that included a variety of items that could help sensory overload at the dentist – sunglasses, fidget toys, a b-calm headset, a timer. Things that would help to build relationships and trust – the flashcards, dental mask, social stories (see item 3 below). Things that children could touch and feel and play with (of course, with adult supervision) – dental mirror, cotton rolls, a mouth prop.
- Personalized social stories. Seriously – I cannot describe how much love I have for social stories. What is a social story??? The idea of social stories were first promoted in 1993 by Gray and Garand (Social stories: improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 1–10, 1993). Their research focused on using social stories to increase knowledge, reduce anxiety, thereby lessening possible behavior difficulties. Specifically, social stories have four main goals.
- Explain unknown situations to reduce anxiety.
- Use both visual and text cues to incorporate different learning styles.(K. A. Quill, “Instructional considerations for young children with autism: the rationale for visually cued instruction,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 697–713, 1997.)
- Tell the story from a reader’s point of view.
- Increase prosocial behavior , including knowledge of social interaction with peers or others featured in the story. (D. Scattone, S. M. Wilczynski, R. P. Edwards, and B. Rabian, “Decreasing disruptive behaviors of children with autism using social stories,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 535–543, 2002.)
In this case, all four of these goals support a more positive, less anxious relationship between patient and provider. Social stories have worked for us in SO. MANY. WAYS. Want an example? See below the story I put together for Waverly Family Dentistry (in my opinion…one of the best offices out there…because they are our office).
So, all of this is great, grand, and good – but the best part? I think the best part was when…IN EVERY TRAINING…someone said, “This isn’t just good for children on the spectrum – this would be a great resource for every child that comes into our office.” Boom.
Doing the thing you love…it’s true…it brings so much peace to the soul and love to the heart. If you reside in Eastern Iowa, please support these four offices. They are ready for you…and your children.
- Manchester Dental Associates – Manchester, IA
- Waverly Family Dentistry – Waverly, IA
- Hennessey Family Dentistry – Cedar Falls, IA
- Dr. Troutman – Independence, IA
In the meantime – if you want to know more about this training – please contact me at nicholekea@gmail