Dear Dr. Rob,
Last week it was once again time to get Ben’s teeth cleaned. Going to the dentist isn’t easy for most people, and Ben’s sensory challenges make getting his teeth cleaned even more complicated than a typical patient. Thankfully, he has you.
This visit was especially long, filled with a round of x-rays in addition to the usual cleaning. As the dental assistant “counted” his teeth, we discussed the need to put four sealants on his back molars as a preventative measure.
You explained that Ben would need to sit perfectly still during the procedure and you asked me if I thought he could handle it. You said you would rather have no sealant than an improperly placed one. I hesitated as I watched my son sit up yet again to spit out the toothpaste that the assistant had patiently reapplied yet again. You sensed my hesitation and asked me something amazing. “What can I do that will best meet his needs?”
And then, wonderfully you listened. You listened while I explained that he would need to understand step-by-step what was going to happen. You listened while I told you that he needed to see and understand the tools that you will use. You listened while I explained that light touch is difficult for him to handle, but deep pressure is soothing. Then, you said that you were more than happy to follow his lead. Your main concern was his happiness and well-being. More than anything else, you did not want to make an enemy that day. You knew how important this moment would be in his future associations with the dentist. And I immediately knew the wisdom in those words. I shared a memory of a nightmare visit to the eye doctor. During that visit, the doctor needed dilate his eyes. Despite describing the process, showing him the droppers, and trying to have him sit for the drops, nothing would work. That day ended up with me holding down my son’s head while he screamed and screamed so the doctor could get the drops in. To this day, it is one of the parenting moments I wish I could change the most. I certainly didn’t wish for a repeat performance at the dentist.
And so we took Ben in the room- just to show him the tools. You showed him the cool flashlight that shone blue on the wall. You let him hold the “big slurpy straw” and asked if he’d like to try it in his mouth. He did. You let him hold the cotton balls and explained how they would help keep his teeth dry. And, after all the explanation, Ben was eager for you to make his teeth “strong” and so we decided to do it. You kept the chair at a slight angle even though it was more difficult for you to do the work, because you knew it would keep him at ease. You talked him through every step. As the sealant dried on his tooth, you counted, with reassuring taps on his chest. You kept him in almost a bear hug with your body throughout, and he did stay calm. You did so many small things in that moment that spoke volumes about the respect that you had for his needs, and I am sure you do the same for each little patient who walks through your doors. We were able to get two sealants done that day. I have every confidence that when we return to get the last two sealants put in place, Ben will do an equally awesome job.
I think we all can learn from the lesson you taught me that day. By asking a simple question, “How can I help?” and really listening, you were able to meet his needs so beautifully. I have tried to do the same in my work with students and teachers, because we all deserve to have our needs heard and respected. Thank you for being there for my child when he needed you, and thank you for reminding me of the importance of listening and serving others.
Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!