The 3 R’s to a successful hair, doctor or dental appointment


So many of our kiddos struggle with simple tasks that we take for granted. Think about it. Do you have a hard time getting your hair cut or going to the doctor? I know many of us dislike going to the dentist, but we know what to expect and typically have a positive experience.

Unfortunately, this is not so easy for people on the autism spectrum. And if you think about it and start to understand how they understand and perceive the world, it really does make a lot of sense.

Can you imagine laying in the dentist’s chair and hearing the drill in the room next door as if it were right next to your ear with the volume turned up so high you couldn’t bare to listen any longer? With that dental light hanging right over your face shining bright in your eyes? The sharp, unfamiliar tools coming at you, appearing much scarier than they are because you have NO clue what to expect? Wondering if that sharp tool is going to hurt you…as the dentist scrapes your teeth clean and it sounds like trucks driving though your head?

This is just a sampling of what it feels like for some kids and adults with autism. So now does it make sense as to why these appointments can be so hard for them? The sound of the metal scissors cutting their hair is not much different to them than the dentist scraping their teeth with a metal tool. It is heightened, meaning they hear it at much higher levels that we do and have a hard to blocking out those sounds. I can’t even begin to imagine!

So what can we do to make this easier for our kiddos? Well, there are 3 R’s that can lead to a successful hair, doctor or dental appointment. It does take time and practice, but stick to this and it will work.

Role Play: First, we want to role play. What does this look like? Grab a play doctor, dentist or barber kit and pretend you are the dentist and they are the patient. OR…if you are able to, schedule a visit or two before the actual appointment so your child can meet the doctor/dentist/stylist/other staff and get a feel for what it’s like to sit/lay in the chair and get familiar with the office.

Then once home you can have them pretend to be in control and be the dentist, first. Whichever role they have first, you’ll want to switch after so they can play both parts and get experience on the side that they will actually experience when they go for their appointment. Tell and show them what might be said, what will happen, the order things happen in (this may take some planning on your part to coordinate the order of the events at the appointment so you can establish a known routine for your kiddo). And practice, practice, practice! Which brings us to our next R…

Repeat: Practicing this repeatedly is important so your child learns what to expect through a routine. Of course, as mentioned above, it is important to establish a routine based on the routine their dentist, hair stylist or doctor may follow. And then it may also help to put that routine in pictures so you set both your child (and the professional they are seeing) up for success. During the pretend (And the real) appointment(s), go over the routine that is pictured. And do this repeatedly until you are confidently they have it down. You may want to start several weeks before the appointment so that you have time to get familiar with the routine.

Reward: These appointments tend to be associated with the scary or over-stimulating parts of the appointment (dental tools, hair scissors, etc). When practicing and when at the actual appointment it is a good idea to reward your child with something they get ONLY during these times (so they look forward to it and it helps distract them in a good way)! This may be time on the ipad or a movie that you can play…a treat (well that one may have to wait until the dentist appointment is done, but they can hold it during), etc. Pick the reward and follow through with it. Hype it up so they look forward to receiving it the day of their appointment.

Using the 3 R’s will help to make your experience easier and more successful for both your child, you and the professional meeting with you! I know you and your child can do this. Role play, Repeat and Reward!

You got this!

With Love,