Frequently Asked Questions

What are Desensitisation Programs?

A desensitisation program is a step-by-step guide to a particular procedure, much like a task analysis. It is used to aid a person with intellectual disabilities and their carer to do something.

What Desensitisation Programs are not?

They are not hard and fast rules. Desensitisation programs should be individualised for each client. There is not one program that can suit everyone. The programs that we have developed are only guides and should not be followed exactly as they are. They need to be changed to suit your client.

What Desensitisation Programs are there?

This website is describing medical procedures.

What do you do with these programs?

These programs can be used to model the steps to a particular procedure. In this case we are describing medical procedures. The programs are to give your client familiarity with the procedure. You can help someone’s anxiety levels if they know what to expect.

How do you start to implement a program?

To begin with, go through the steps of the program with your client and see what they can and can’t do (see program websites of blood test, abdominal x-ray and chest x-ray).

Ask yourself:

  • What does my client understand in the programs?
  • What do you need to help your client better understand the programs? e.g., more pictures, the actual instruments from the procedure, do you need to take the person to the clinic and show them the waiting room?

How do you make the clinic visit work?

Ask yourself:

  • Do I need to call the receptionist and let them know we are coming?
  • What is the best time for my client to see the medical professional?
  • Ask the clinic when is the best time to come?
  • Ask the clinic when is the quietest time to come?
  • What will the client not like about the visit? Write a list and go through the list one thing at a time. e.g., smells and noises in a dentist clinic can be upsetting to someone with intellectual disabilities. These noises and smells are foreign and they might be unpleasant. People with intellectual disabilities sometimes have different tolerance levels for smells and noises, especially people with autism.

Please prepare the professional you are going to see.

  • Tell the professional how the person communicates e.g. only nonverbal, can understand some words, you need to use symbols etc. The health professional cannot know how the person communicates from a 15 minute consultation.

If you feel the person will not cope with the procedure please ask the medical professional:

  • is there is another way to complete the medical procedure? E.g., Can they have a syrup version of a medication? Can they sit up in the chair? Can they stand up for the consultation? Don’t feel afraid to ask what else can be done to help?

What are the cues of distress for a person with intellectual disability?

Is the client irritable?
Is the client aggressive?
Is there an increase in self-injurious behaviour?
Are they pacing?
Are they wringing their hands?
Are they shaking their legs?

What if the programme did not work?

If the person with intellectual disabilities does not cope with the procedure it is not a failure. Just because it did not work the first time does not mean you can give up. It might mean that we need to change the way you did things, e.g. choose a different time, try a different staff member to take them next time, drive a different route so that you did not encounter traffic which made the person anxious even before they got to the appointment. Try anything to make the second attempt more successful! It might take 4 or 5 attempts, but KEEP TRYING. Eventually it will work!