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Open up and say "Ahhhhh"

Parents of special needs kiddos tend to look out for one another. Have a question or need help with something? Just ask, and chances are you’ll get responses. It’s like turning on the Bat-Signal and seeing the Caped Crusaders, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash step in to save the day.

Cindy and I needed some assistance almost two years ago when we had to find a new dentist in a hurry for Nolan, who’d gone more than six months since his last checkup due to circumstances beyond his control. Cindy put out an S.O.S. on Facebook, and we received suggestions from two of her friends, and a member of our church. Another friend of Cindy’s who also has a son with Autism suggested a dentist who not only had been “understanding and patient,” but he’d also come to the office on his day off and attended to an emergency her boy was dealing with. One of Nolan’s paraprofessionals from grade school, who is in the process of adopting a girl with special needs, also vouched for the dentist, telling us that he'd make any accommodations Nolan might need if we called ahead of time.

We listened, we called, and Nolan became one of his patients. Granted, the best we can ever hope for from him is reluctant tolerance when he’s being poked or prodded. But he’s grown a little more comfortable with visiting his doctor. And I think he’s discovered the dentist and his staff aren’t so bad, either.

I don’t want to boast, but Nolan has become this dentist office’s version of Norm from “Cheers.” He went in Tuesday afternoon for a quick examination and got a better welcome than some heads of state. The three women working at the reception desk all asked for, and received, a high-five from my son. Natasha, one of the ladies, has really taken a liking to him. She offered him a finger puppet by her computer before she went back to see if the examination room was ready. She walked us back to the examination room, where she’d put up the pictures you see, and placed plastic snakes and hand clappers both near and in the dental chair in an attempt to get him to sit in it. It’s worked -- albeit briefly -- in the past, but it didn’t Tuesday, and that was fine. The hygienist brushed Nolan’s teeth while he stood up, and he got to keep one of the hand clappers.

Natasha could be the keynote speaker for a customer service seminar. Not only did she call me Monday to confirm Nolan’s appointment, but she also let me know that a new dentist would be examining him. She told me that not only had the new dentist examined children with Autism in the past, but he also had been Nolan’s dentist’s classmate in dental school. He examined Nolan’s teeth standing up, saw what he needed to see, asked him for a high-five, and went on his way. I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave California like he did to practice in Wisconsin, but I think I’m going to like the guy.

Now, Nolan’s previous dentist, a guy he’d been going to for several years who also had other patients with Autism, was a nice person and very good at his craft. But he also was getting older and had a bum arm that had bothered him for some time. Nolan was 12 when he was last scheduled to see him and already weighed more than the fullback on some high school football teams. It always took two or three hygienists and I to hold him down so the dentist could do a halfway decent examination, or something that resembled one. For all I know, maybe the guy figured it was only a matter of time before Nolan broke free and stuck a dental pick somewhere more painful than in his mouth.

I could understand why the dentist delayed Nolan’s six-month appointment by one month back in the spring of 2018. But when someone from his office called to confirm Nolan’s rescheduled appointment the following month, only to have another person from his office call me a few hours later to tell me the dentist couldn’t possibly see him – nor could she tell me when he might be able to see him – we knew it was time to make a change. And there were people to help us arrive at a good decision.

It’s one thing to hear that someone is very good at what he or she does. Seeing how he or she responds in a difficult situation – say, having five people hold down a very irritated Nolan on the floor at one of his first appointments just so the dentist could look inside his mouth – is quite another.

Nolan’s dentist, who also repaired Nolan’s broken front tooth and cleaned his teeth last March while he was under anesthesia, realized during the aforementioned visit that there had to be a better way. So he suggested that I bring in Nolan for a very brief appointment -- if he accomplished anything, great; if not, okay. We scheduled another appointment for a couple weeks later, and then another and another. The dentist and his staff were very relaxed around Nolan, and thus Nolan became a little more comfortable with each visit, which was usually around 10 minutes. Last November he finally let the dentist and hygienist clean his teeth -- standing up. I don't doubt they'll be willing to do the same when Nolan is scheduled for his next cleaning in April.

It can be difficult for parents of special needs children to find a doctor or a dentist they can trust. Sometimes we don't get it right on the first try, and that's OK. Just ask, and there are people who are willing to help you find the right fit. If you're in western Wisconsin and are searching for a good dentist for your son or daughter, let me tell you about some people I know ...

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