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When a child is ill, even with a minor illnesses like the common cold, a parent faces new challenges. When a child with special needs gets an illness, the challenges can be much more daunting. For example, the stress of an illness often exacerbates autism symptoms in children.
Many children with special needs are more difficult to diagnose and treat because of common problems such as:
  • Communication issues
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sensory issues
  • Fear of strangers
  • Fear of needles
Here are some tips and reminders to help you.

If possible, explain to your child (in age appropriate terms) where you are going and why. Also explain what will happen when you get there. (A doctor will examine you, you will have a picture or an x-ray taken, etc.) Offer your child reassurance that he will be okay as sometimes kids picture the worst scenario.
If you do have to bring your child to the doctor or hospital you will probably have to wait. Bring what you can to keep your child occupied including toys, video games, portable DVD player etc.
When you arrive at the doctor's office or hospital, make sure that whoever is checking you in knows your child has special needs which may become exacerbated by a long wait. Ideally you should have a few "to whom it may concern" notes or cards with your child's name, diagnosis, main manifestations of his special needs, any extra-sensitivity to touch etc. which you can give to the receptionist as well as anyone else who will be involved in your child's care. If the check in person can't help with the waiting time at a hospital, ask if they know of a quieter area where you can wait and if they can call you or get you when it is your child's turn.
Make sure anyone who will be examining or treating your child knows that your child has special needs. Some doctors and nurses may have little or no experience in the area of special needs and will be grateful for any information you can give them. If you don't have a prepared note or card to give them, take them aside and explain what works best for your child, what doesn't work and what will exacerbate his symptoms.
If hospitalization is required, your child will be out of his comfort zone and will be frightened. Try and increase his feelings of safety and security by surrounding him with familiar objects. Bring in some toys, teddies, blankets, and pictures to try and create familiar surroundings.

If your child is verbal and old enough ask her what toys or games she wants to bring to the doctor’s office or hospital.
Hospitalization also brings another challenge-noise. On a ward you have the noise of multiple conversations as well as beeping and other noises from medical machines. Consider bringing in an iPod with headphones or even plain ear plugs for your child.
For children with sensory issues, the bright lights in hospitals can be disturbing. If your child is agreeable, bring in sunglasses or eye masks to reduce or block out the light.

If your child has a limited diet, have someone bring in some of the foods he will eat so he can eat them while he is hospitalized - just make sure you get the doctor's approval first. If you aren't able to stay with your child, ask the nurses if you can leave some of your child's food somewhere on the ward and ask them to bring it to your child at mealtimes.
Some children with special needs have a skewed perception of pain. If this applies to your child, make sure the doctors and nurses assessing and treating him are aware of this.
The common cold can also be a challenge as kids often have difficulty with blowing their noses, covering their mouths when sneezing etc. One tip which was shared with me helps children who have difficulty blowing their nose-have them practice using their nose to blow out a candle.
Many children are afraid of needles and will be very unhappy if they have to get their blood drawn. If this happens, make sure you ask that the area be numbed first and ask that the smallest needle be used. You want to make the situation as painless as possible to minimize or prevent future issues if blood has to be drawn again.
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If you child needs to rest and is resisting this try calming music or let him watch TV or play a computer game in bed. 

As mentioned above, a good thing to have prepared before an unexpected hospital or doctor's visit, is a short note that explains your child’s diagnosis and symptoms as well as what types of action may trigger a meltdown.  You can also put other medical information such as allergies or medications that your child takes in this note. You can keep several copies in your car to give to medical staff.
Most children have a regular doctor or pediatrician who they will be familiar with. There may be times when you bring your child for an appointment and your usual doctor isn't there. To help prepare for this situation, ask that the receptionist or secretary put a note in your child's medical records (both paper and electronic) so that whoever examines your child is aware of her special needs.
Finally, if you are unhappy with how your child is being treated speak up. You know your child the best and you are her advocate. Express any concerns you have in an assertive not argumentative way. If necessary ask for a second opinion or to speak with someone in a management role.

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