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Children as Diagnostic Patients

When children need diagnostic testing, their special needs as patients can complicate treatment. Depending on the age of a child, parents and doctors may face a lack of linguistic or cognitive skills, emotional stages that need to be addressed, and the ever-shifting nature of a child’s understanding as they move through growth stages. Compassionate caregivers can take time to explain procedures on a level the child can grasp. Parents and guardians can provide doctor and nurse themed toys to explore some medical procedures through play. Adults can provide facts in a calm voice so that the child can experience a sense of control during a difficult time.

Some diagnostic tests children may encounter:

  • X-rays
  • Blood draw or blood count
  • CT or CAT scan
  • EEG or electroencephalogram
  • MRI or magnetic resonance imaging
  • Ultrasound
  • Spinal tap
  • Angiogram
  • And others

Helping Children Through a Diagnostic Procedure

Adapt explanations to the child’s capacity to understand the situation. Decide with the child on an enjoyable activity following the procedure. Planning for ice cream or a special trip will help children recognize that a procedure will have an end. They can have something specific to look forward to.

For Younger Children:

A baby or toddler won’t understand or remember long discussions. Offer assurance that loved ones will be nearby at all times. Provide a special toy or comforting blanket for them to see and hold during a procedure if possible.

For Older Children:

Older children will inevitably imagine far worse situations than the one they face. They need some facts and an overview of the procedure so they can understand it. They also need respect for their emotional level and any growing sense of shyness or modesty about their bodies. Treated with respect, many children can often put aside these issues and work with medical experts.

Children respond well when adults show consideration for their feelings and concerns. Make only those promises you can keep. Provide a favorite comfort item at any age. Discuss discomfort or pain, and don’t shame a child.

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