Preparation is Key
Ruchie Szlafrok-Orlansky, LCSW
Having your child undergo medical testing, invasive procedures, surgery, or other medical interventions can be a very frightening experience for a parent. Even as an adult, these events can induce fear and anxiety; even more so for a child and especially for a child with a disability. Children with Down syndrome often have other medical conditions that require medical attention at various points in their lives.
Preparing your child properly for what they may experience is a key factor to avoiding a traumatic response as a result of medical intervention. Here are some to tips to help you prepare your child for their medical appointment.
- Hospital/Office Tour – A preliminary tour of the hospital or office can be helpful to acclimate your child to unfamiliar surroundings. Many hospitals and medical offices allow this – you just need to ask in advance. The calmer and more prepared your child is, the easier it will be for the physician to treat your child. Having your child see the facility, meet the staff, and get familiar with the environment takes away some of the anxiety that your child may experience that day. This is most helpful for children with Down syndrome as they often have difficulty processing change and adjusting to new things. This takes away a lot of the guess work for them and can help them know what to expect.
- Social Stories – This is a safe and developmentally appropriate way for adults to give over information to children. You can do this yourself, or ask your child’s teacher or therapist to help you do it. Depending on the medical intervention your child will experience, include age appropriate depictions of the procedure and facility, and pictures of your child in the story. Page by page, include scenes starting from the night before the intervention, all the way through the end of it. Step by step depict what your child will see and experience. Review this book with your child a number of times and ask your child to summarize it for you to ensure they understand. Reward your child for his/her efforts. If you are short on time, you can find a number of children’s books at the library that address this topic as well.
- Regulation Techniques – Your child may get overwhelmed at points throughout the medical experience. It is important that your child know how to self-sooth or regulate themselves with your help. For example, teach your child a breathing technique. Smell the flower (Inhale) and blow out the candle (Exhale). This is a good tool to have in your back pocket so that if you see your child is getting nervous, you can focus on his/her breathing to help them relax. Many children with Down syndrome have difficulty with emotional regulation, so practicing this in advance can really help your child in the moment.
- Preferred Objects – If your child has a teddy bear, blanket or squish toy that they prefer to have with them, bring it along! This feeling of security and familiarity can help your child stay grounded and calm in an otherwise chaotic and confusing time.
- Something New – The medical world can be a scary and unfamiliar place for a child. Buy a new game or toy to keep your child occupied and distracted while they are in the waiting room or once they are recovering. The newness can be something that your child is excited about, and rewarding them for being brave and trying their hardest is something they may respond well to.
Ruchie Szlafrok-Orlansky, LCSW has over 15 years of experience working with children with disabilities. She works in private practice in Brooklyn and Monsey. For additional support, feel free to contact Ruchie at Ruchie.Szlafrok@gmail.com.