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Supporting Your Practice

Treating Children with Autism


Heather PicHeather Jackson, RDH, spoke with Dr. John O’Keefe about Patient Guided Sensory Integration; a program that she has been implementing in Dr. Clive Friedman’s practice in London, Ontario, where more than 500 autistic children are treated. 


Heather is experienced in treating children with special needs, including those with autism, and describes the program they’ve developed that creates an environment where a child with special needs can tolerate care.

  • The Patient-Guided Sensory Integration Program provides a framework for treatment that can be adjusted according to what a child is most comfortable with.
  • The program requires a quiet location with minimal distractions where the child is allowed to settle.
  • Conversations with a parent allows the hygienist to find out what’s worked or not worked for their child, and determine what approach to use.
  • Since the child is usually nonverbal, it’s important to have a parent present as a silent observer.
  • Establishing comfort boundaries is crucial.

“I use a lot of counting to 5 and singing. Whenever my hands are on a child, they come off by the time I get to 5. So it sets up a trust, it sets up a start, it sets up a finish. Anybody can tolerate anything for 5 seconds, even if I do it 50 times for 5 seconds they know I’ll be stopping.”

  • Staff at the clinic have integrated techniques acquired from many training courses, including deep pressure, orofacial massage, errorless learning, music therapy and counting.

“It’s like we have a big tool belt and we’re going to decide which tool we’re going to use that day.”

  • Heather provided 3 videos that illustrate her approach to care: (1) Treating a little boy using counting to 5, singing, orofacial message, and continual positive reinforcement, (2) Treating a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome and autism, as evidence of the difference this program can make in terms of patient’s willingness to accept treatment, and (3) A video of a young man who sings and counts as part of his treatment.




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