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For Your Next Doctor’s Appointment

Shannon Pollard Duvall, SMS mom to Lily

If you are reading this, you probably know someone with SMS, and if you know someone with SMS, you probably know that things are rarely easy for them. Last week, Lily, my seven-year-old with SMS, had to spend the day at the hospital to get some dental work done. Of course, instead of a routine dental appointment, Lily required dental surgery with full anesthesia, in the children’s hospital. The idea of taking my child to a hospital and waiting for hours with no food or water before having her procedure was enough to make me ready to check into the psych ward instead of the children’s unit. But I’m happy to tell you that the day was a great success! Not only did her procedure go well, but there were no meltdowns and the hospital is still standing.

We routinely work to ensure Lily’s doctor’s appointments are as beneficial and meltdown-free as possible.

Here are some friendly reminders and helpful tips we use to get Lily (and us!) through medical visits:

You’ve got issues. When I was a kid, I hated going to the doctor for one reason only: shots. But my daughter’s high pain tolerance makes shots a breeze. Why then, does a doctor’s appointment with an SMSer even warrant a blog post with tips then? What is it that makes this a difficult experience? For my child, the main issues are having to wait, having to comply with requests from the physicians, being poked at and prodded, and generally being out of routine. It can be helpful to list the issues your child with SMS faces when it comes to doctor’s appointments. Identifying the specific issues makes it easier to combat each one. It’s important to remember that the issues my daughter faces may be different than those your child with SMS faces. 

It takes two. My husband and I do not do doctor’s appointments alone, and we usually drive separately. It typically takes one of us to wrangle Lily and the other to manage the actual logistics of the appointment, including: listening to the physician, taking notes, paying the bill, and sometimes simply being where we are supposed to be. It may be that both parents cannot attend, and that’s okay. But I’d recommend bringing a friend, grandma or even paying a babysitter to lend an extra pair of hands. It’s completely worth it, even for a visit we believe will be routine. With an SMSer, things are rarely routine.

You deserve a break today. The wait at a doctor’s office can be long and tiresome, even for a ‘typical’ child. If we recognize Lily is at the end of her tolerance, we give her a break. we take a walk, play with toys, have a snack, or whatever else she needs to do to keep a meltdown at bay. I explain to the doctor that she has a limited tolerance and that when it is over, that’s it — there is no return. So, she gets a break, even if it means inconveniencing them. I advise them at the beginning of the visit to take care of any medical necessities immediately, because much of what doctors want to do (especially with young children) is take time to talk to the parent. During our recent hospital adventure, I gave the nurse my cell phone number and said, “We are going to explore the hospital. Text us when you are ready for us”. You should feel empowered to share strategies that work best for your child with the doctor and allow them to accommodate you and your child’s needs during your visit. 

Great expectations. Therapists often say that social stories help children to understand situations and experiences like doctor visits. They simply have not worked for Lily. Lily does not seem to associate the story with the actual experience. What has worked, however, are YouTube videos. There are music videos with songs of encouragement and explanation for all kinds of experiences. These videos demonstrate kids going through typical experiences, such as medical appointments, and communicates what to expect. She remembers these videos at just the right time! As we were walking into the hospital, Lily was singing “Going to get my health checked, going to get myself checked! I’m not scared! Doctors really care!”

Worth the wait. The biggest issue for Lily, by far, is the waiting. To help, we bring a special bag of toys with us. When she was younger, Lily was not at all interested in anything new, so we would confiscate a few favorite toys that would only make appearances during doctor visits. Now, she loves new toys and is extremely motivated by the “blind bag” craze. We now allow her to open a new blind bag or two during the visit. I am not above bribery. And I’m not ashamed of it.

When in Rome…Inside the bag of ‘special’ toys for the doctor’s office is always a doctor’s kit. Lily knows the difference between a stethoscope and an otoscope, and she is always more comfortable when she feels smart and can apply her knowledge. It helps us practice what she needs to do for the exam while she is in the waiting room. (Remember to keep your arm still when getting your blood pressure taken!!). Turning the experience into a game can help to take the pressure off. She is allowed to ‘examine’ the doctor with her kit. Not only does this help her to bond with her doctor, but it helps her to feel empowered if she isn’t the only one being poked and prodded.

I’ve found with these measures, a lot of prayer, and a little luck, we had a totally meltdown-free day at the hospital. We are not always so successful. Meltdowns sometimes occur, no matter how well we prepare. It’s important not to beat yourself up when those inevitable meltdowns occur. Just push through it, however you need to…even if sometimes this means letting your child hide all of the tongue depressors on the way out!


Good luck with your next doctor’s appointment or hospital visit.

May your family stay healthy and happy!