Monday was our semi-annual trip to the dentist. I doubt I need to go into much detail as if there’s one universal dread we share as parents – and a mortal fear that most of our children experience a thousand-fold worse – it’s the dentist. No offense to the dentists in the world, but with every system in your body on sensory overload most of the time, having a bunch of people crawl around in your mouth with loud and/or pointy instruments under bright Klieg lights isn’t really a recipe for that peaceful, easy feeling.
The truth is, it sucks, and all we pray for is that no one is injured as a result of going and that our son isn’t permanently damaged emotionally. We get through it because we have to. I know many parents avoid it altogether. Seeing our children experience what looks like – and likely is – frantic terror is something we’d do about as willingly as having a few fingers chopped off. I guess we just decided that some kinds of bodily care have to be done, and we have to accept what comes as part of that as best we can, which usually isn’t very well.
Monday’s visit was about typical. Lots of wrestling and J-Man screaming and all the dread and parental guilt that goes along with it. It helps that we fired the dental practice that treated us like second class citizens over a year ago. We love our current dentists. They’re constantly saying affirming things to the J-Man, they are completely calm about everything, and they get it done fast. Worth every penny.
But Monday we had to start coming to terms with an issue we’ve never been able to make peace with – to use restraints or not.
To this point, we’ve never used mechanical restraints on him for anything, medical or otherwise. It’s all been a variety of holds that aim for close body contact (deep pressure and hopefully reassurance) without doing anything that looks like it belongs in a pro wrestling ring. We’ve strained a dozen or so of our parental body parts along the way, but the thought of him bound up in something while strangers worked on him in his already terrified state was too horrible to consider.
However, it now takes three of us using all of our strength and skill to hold him at the dentist. I’d suffer a thousand injuries for him over and over again to make it easier on him. But he’s getting so strong that I’m almost to the point where I can’t hold him without hurting both of us, particularly him.
This leaves us with a possible outcome that we dread – using the papoose board. (Link to a product page – click the Images tab for more pictures) The idea of wrapping him in one of these restraints makes my blood feel cold. Even more mortifying for me are ones I’ve seen at hospitals that have the arms extended outward such that the child looks like a swaddled crucifix. Even though they don’t use those at the dentist, the image stays with me.
I can come up with one possible justification for a papoose board for some autistic children that makes some rational sense. For kids like the J-Man who crave deep pressure in their bodies and are calmed by it, there is a certain logic to using it. It wraps them tight, gives them full body pressure, and simulates to some degree the kinds of deep pressure work he seeks out whether as part of occupational therapy, sensory copying techniques, or whatever. I have read the experiences of a couple of other parents whose children were indeed calmed by the papoose board for this very reason. If the J-Man wasn’t a child who responded to deep pressure many times a day in daily life, I can’t imagine trying a papoose board.
The main question is whether we’re more likely to hurt him with three, four, or more of us trying to hold him vs. using a papoose board. Up until now, I’ve felt like the answer to this question has been simple – just hold him and do the best we can. He’s getting stronger and stronger by the day it seems, though. There will come a point where we can’t hold him. I’m trying to make peace with the idea of trying it once, and if it looks like he’s worse with it than without it, we’ll fall back and think of something else.
I know he’s scared out of his mind. Our hearts break into pieces for him. I’d give anything if there were some way we could talk him through it and reassure him. Feeling powerless is a common emotion for all of us, and this is one of those instances where that feeling is unavoidable.
That day six months from now is going to be full of dread. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your perspective.