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Periodically throughout a child’s life, their doctor may order blood work to get more information about their health. This medical procedure may be scary for any child. The following steps and materials can be used to help an autistic child, or any child who may experience anxiety with the unknown, prepare for the medical procedure of a blood draw.
- A video demonstrating a blood draw. CLICK HERE for a link to the video I selected.
- A social story about blood work. CLICK HERE to download a free PDF copy.
- An activity schedule for blood work. CLICK HERE to download a free PDF copy.
- A stretchy band, elastic, or real tourniquet for pretend play.
- A toy doctor kit that includes a bandaid and a shot.
- A cotton ball
- A visual timer (optional- This may be helpful while waiting, but may not be necessary for all children)
- A chair
- A treat (sucker, fruit snack, or anything your child likes)
Step 1: Social Story
Read the social story to the child. This story briefly explains why blood work is needed. This story does not include details about the process for collecting the blood. This information will be covered later in the video and activity schedule. If you missed the above link, CLICK HERE to download a free PDF copy of the Blood Work Social Story. Review the social story prior to the real blood draw as needed.
Step 2: Show the child a video of what happens
Seeing someone get their blood drawn can help prepare a child to experience the same event and know what to expect. I found this short video on YouTube of a boy getting his blood drawn. This video was selected as the boy is very calm throughout the blood draw procedure. As the video is playing, show the child the Blood Work Activity Schedule and point to each step as it occurs. You may also want to describe the sensory experience. For example, as the tourniquet is put on, it feels a little tight on the arm. When the arm is wiped with the alcohol swab, it smells funny and feels a little cold on the arm. When the needle is put in, you will feel a short pinch that will not hurt for long.
Step 3: Pretend play with the activity schedule
Pretend play the blood work procedure using the activity schedule and other listed supplies. As in the Step 2 video segment, it may be helpful to explain the sensory experiences that will occur with a real blood draw while playing. Depending on the child’s comfort level, you may want to initially play out the blood work procedure using a doll or stuffed animal.
Repeat the play sequence over several days or weeks prior to the real blood draw.
Once the child becomes more comfortable, start playing out the sequence with each other. When pretend playing blood work with my children, I review the video with them, go through the play sequence, and then provide a small treat at the end.
Add in other variations to the play sequence.
In a perfect world, the nurse or health aid will be able to get the needle in the right place the first time. Since there is a chance that this won’t happen, it is important to prepare the child for this variation. Moving the arm or genetically small veins (like the ones I have) may require multiple attempts to put the needle in. During the play sequence, I would not recommend pretending to move your arm. Non-examples and inaccurate examples may backfire and produce undesired effects with some autistic children. Instead, just pretend the nurse missed the vein and needed to try again.
Step 4: The real blood draw
In preparation for the real blood draw, you have read the social story, shown the video, and played out what will happen. You have done everything you can to prepare your child. You may want to show the video again before going in for the blood draw. Take the activity schedule with you to help your child through the procedure. Be sure to bring a treat or other reward for your child when the blood draw is finished.
Summary of How to Prepare Your Child for a Blood Draw
To prepare your child for a blood draw, read a social story about the purpose of blood work. Next watch a video demonstrating the procedure. Pretend play the steps in a blood draw and include possible variations. On the big blood draw day, bring the activity schedule and a treat to help get them through.