For kids with autism, a trip to the dentist can be extra stressful. Here's how one office is making it fun.
The loud noises and bright lights of the dentist's office can make anyone uneasy. It can be especially hard for children with autism. This father in Chile has found a way to make trips to the dentist a little less scary for those kids: therapy dogs.
Raul Varela started his nonprofit organization Junto a Ti (“Next to You”), which specializes in training and providing therapy dogs for visits to the dentist for autistic children, after noticing that his own child, who has autism, seemed calmer and had easier interactions with people after spending time with the family’s black lab, Zucca.
Varela decided to quit his job and get certified as a therapy dog trainer to see if Zucca might be able to learn how to calm other children in stressful situations – like yearly checkups at the dentist. He soon started his nonprofit, which uses six dogs to provide assistance to a local university-run dental clinic in Santiago, Chile.
The dogs get specialized training to learn how to deal with the sounds and lights that often frighten children with autism, and how to comfort kids during their appointment.
“Zucca had already been trained to be around children with autism, but taking her to the dentist was different,” Varela told the Associated Press. “She needed to be able to resist the screaming, the noise from the drill and to stay still in the lap of the children, even when they pull their hair or their ears.”
So far, the dogs have helped nearly 50 children visiting the clinic and they hope to be able to help more in the future.