CDD Psychologist Makes Going to the Dentist a Team Effort

August 8, 2022

Jillian Reiher
Jillian Reiher

How do you help a child with autism, who needs to see a dentist before starting kindergarten, but has had a previous visit to the dentist that didn’t go well at all? Very patiently, according to Jillian Reiher, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD), Iowa’s UCEDD, and the state’s premier center for diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of people with disabilities.

Reiher had been working with the child who had been diagnosed with autism the previous year. They met once a week in Day Treatment, doing bridge ABA therapy and skill acquisition. When the child’s mother brought up the need for a dental appointment, and the challenging visit at the pediatric dentistry clinic, Reiher came up with a plan.

She knew the process would require a collective effort and would take some time. Visit by visit, Reiher and her patient worked their way toward the dentistry clinic at the other end of the hallway. She got in touch with clinic staff, and they showed her the visual schedule and gave her a “pretend” dentistry set, including fake teeth for practice. They taught her to operate the clinic chair, and use the air and water sprayers. The patient’s mother took photos to make her child a personal social story about going to the dentistry clinic.

Reiher worked with the patient, starting in her room, slowly introducing the pretend dentistry tools, and demonstrating them on the fake teeth. Later, they used tools, like the oral mirror, to touch his mouth. They added the iPad, and then began inching their way down the hall. When they finally got to the door of the pediatric dentistry clinic, the child knocked on the door, and they walked in together.

“I appreciate the opportunity CDD provides,” Reiher said. “Having so many clinics in the same place and being able to work together made the difference.”

Reiher is a graduate of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities program (LEND). She completed her LEND training at Munroe-Meyer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, where she did her postdoc, prior to joining CDD.