CW: Dentist visit
After avoiding dentists by necessity (no extra money or dental insurance) for most of my life, it seems that I’m seeing the dentist with alarming regularity these days. Bad tooth genetics, struggles to find a regular tooth hygiene routine that works for any amount of time, and a lack of previous dental care are a pretty horrific combination.
At this visit I re-stated the supports I need. I’m getting better at knowing what will be helpful and at figuring out how to put those things into words that aren’t too long and rambly.
Before I post about the supports I requested, here are my initial post-visit tweets:
Given how well it’s worked previously, I typed everything out ahead of time. People are generally more likely to read the entire thing if it all fits on just one piece of paper, so I did my best to fit it all on one page.
Everything I wrote perfectly fit on one piece of paper when printed out which was awesome! I even used 14-point font and bold headings so it was easier to read.
First I included a forecast of my likely spoken communication abilities during the visit so that they would know what to expect. I was completely unable to speak at my last dentist visit, but that was not the case this time around.
My speaking ability tends to fluctuate a great deal, which means that it can be unpredictable to a degree. Like the weather. So I adopted weather forecast terminologies for that purpose.
Second I wrote out every question I could possibly think of that related to my specific situation. Possible questions could be about anesthesia, the process of whatever procedure is being done, whether various comfort measures will be available, how long the procedure might take, etc.
Finally I made requests for supports. Some of these requests had been made previously, but I hadn’t really followed up with them since sending that first dentist email.
They didn’t do badly, exactly, with following through with my email requests but they didn’t do well either. I mainly felt that it was time for a refresher of some of the most important things after my last visit. I’ll write out a few of those requests below this note.
I needed a great deal of peer support through writing my support requests and I also needed many, many clear reminders that I was not being too demanding and that these supports are important enough to ask for.
It’s not easy to know when asking for support is even reasonable in the first place, let alone to actually do it. Add in a lifetime of internalized ableism and functionally having a communication disability, and many of us will never get to the point of even trying to ask for much-needed supports.
The most helpful dentist support, for me, is to be told what’s going to happen next. Being told something like, “I’m about to do x because of y and it may feel like z and last for t amount of time.” is so helpful. I know allistic (non-autistic) people who benefit from that sort of explaining as well, but it doesn’t seem to be routine for many care providers (including dentists).
Another one is to be told whether or not I’ve been seen by the hygienist or assistant before. I can’t recognize people by their faces, which means that it takes a while for me to know that I’ve met or worked with anyone previously. I can, thankfully, recognize the dentist (and not only just from contextual clues like, they’re the one with the drill), but I struggle with recognizing the rest of their staff even though I’ve been seeing them for well over a year now for numerous visits.
And the last one I’ll mention here, because it seems to be a common issue for Autistic people in general, is a request that they give me additional time to process after being asked a question. This is so that I can give them an accurate answer instead of just going into auto-pilot scripting mode and giving the socially expected (and usually inaccurate) response.
How did they do?
They did fairly well. The most important thing to me is that they were respectful, kind, and seemed to be trying to remember everything.
I could’ve used more explanations — especially ahead of time — but I got more explanations than I had previously and they seemed to be inquiring about my experience more frequently as well.
They chit-chatted with me less than before, which is a positive, IMO. I had more ability to speak today than previously, but I’m still a bit low on words and speaking to allistics always takes a great deal of energy that I don’t have much of in reserve right now.
My expectation is that they will continue to do better and that I will continue to become more effective at expressing my needs also.
But right now my face hurts and I just want to curl up in a ball on my couch with my stuffed puppy (and any kitten that may choose to join me) and read Autistic-authored fiction, so that’s what I’m planning to do.