Different, not less

30 March 2021
6 min read

Ellen Cummings discusses how to adapt your practice and patient communication to become autism-friendly.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder which affects how individuals communicate and relate to others, and how they process and react to stimuli in the world around them. Autism affects approximately 700,000 people in the UK, and each one of these people experiences different challenges. Whilst some autistic people need minimal support, others might require continuous help from a parent or carer – and it is important that dental practices are able to provide the right care for autistic patients wherever they are on the spectrum.

Symptoms of autism can include taking longer to understand information, getting anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations, finding bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, and difficulties communicating. These particular challenges can make dental practices very stressful environments for autistic patients: reception areas are often busy and full of strangers; surgeries are full of noisy drills, bright operating lights and reclining dental chairs; treatments can be complicated and painful; and the whole scenario is out of the norm of the patient’s daily routine. I spoke to Daniel Cadey, an autism access development manager at the National Autistic Society (NAS), about the steps dental practices can take to make the practice experience a more positive one for autistic patients.

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