Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Ways to Help Your Child through an Immunization: Visual Strategies for Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Ways to Help Your Child through an Immunization: Visual Strategies for Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

Article excerpt


My 20-year-old son recently experienced his first tattoo. It is large, colorful and he is very proud. He described in detail the process of getting the tattoo, and the many needles (more than 20!) used to create his tattoo. He wears the tattoo as an emblem and is eagerly anticipating the next visit to the tattoo parlor. But when I approached him to get a flu shot he panicked at the idea of receiving one needle!

My son with special needs will never have a tattoo. The idea of multiple needles is too overwhelming for him to consider. And, like his brother, his reaction to an immunization is to panic.

Why are we afraid of receiving an immunization? Many of us, whether we are old or young, male or female, typically developing or living with a disability, become quite anxious at the idea of a needle. We anticipate the possibility of pain, however brief, and try to avoid the experience. The reality is that any discomfort is usually very brief, and the entire process only takes a minute or two from start to finish.

While our typically developing children may fuss and drag their feet, it is usually manageable to get them to the office and get the deed done. But for our children with special needs, this 'typical' experience may seem much bigger. Couple our personal fear with our children's fear and we may become very overwhelmed. However, with some preparation and planning, this can be an easier experience for everyone.

Preparing for the Immunization Day

Even at an early age, your child can sense your emotions, so the calmer you are, the calmer your child is likely to be. If you are anxious about the idea of an immunization, your child may also feel anxious. If you do feel nervous, try using anxiety-relieving techniques. Taking a deep breath or using muscle relaxation may help you to relax. Do you have a family member or a friend who is calm, cool and collected in any situation? Ask them to go with you. Having a calming presence with you will help everyone to feel more comfortable.

When should you tell your child about the immunization appointment? If your child is developmentally under the age of seven, it is recommended you tell them one hour before the appointment. Don't give them too much time to think about it. Children may start to worry about going for an immunization. Here are some ideas for relieving your child's anxieties, but you are the best judge for which ones might be most appropriate for your child.

* Tell your child that you or another adult will be there during the immunization.

* Talk to your child about the immunization. Explain how the immunization works. You can tell your child that the doctor or nurse is putting medicine into his/her body to keep him/her from getting sick and using a needle is the only way to get the medicine in there.

* Teach your children that doctors and nurses are nice, friendly people. They are working hard doing their jobs to keep children healthy.

* Honesty is the best policy. Immunizations do hurt, so you need to prepare your child for that. Let him/her know that it might hurt a little bit but it will not last too long.

* Prepare yourself with information about immunizations so you can answer any questions. Make sure to give all explanations in a way that your child can easily understand. Too much information can cause as much worry as not enough information, so think about your child's ability to understand. Use simple language to explain what will happen to your child at his/her level. Below, we provide three examples of ways to explain the immunization procedure to your child, using language at different levels. Choose the language level that will help your child to understand what is happening.

* But remember, when we are distressed, simple words are best. And when paired with photos, they create a picture/ visual story to explain the procedure. …

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