Bringing a smile to neurodivergent patients

Medical, dental and rehabilitation team members, as well as representatives from the Azrieli Foundation, gather on April 2 to inaugurate the Azrieli Clinic for the Neurodivergent Community, located at CLSC René-Cassin.
Medical, dental and rehabilitation team members, as well as representatives from the Azrieli Foundation, gather on April 2 to inaugurate the Azrieli Clinic for the Neurodivergent Community, located at CLSC René-Cassin.

Launch of first dental and medical clinic for adults with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities

When Dental Hygienist Deysi Lemus greeted a patient recently at the Azrieli Clinic for the Neurodivergent Community, she found the woman tense and agitated. The patient was frightened to be at the clinic and too nervous to lie in the dental chair.

Ms. Lemus took the time to put her at ease. She lay down in the chair herself. She allowed the patient, who has Down’s Syndrome, to handle some of the dental tools and to practice on Ms. Lemus. Bit by bit, the patient relaxed—and by the time the appointment was over, she was so pleased that she did a little dance with Ms. Lemus.

“She didn’t want to leave,” Ms. Lemus recalls. “That’s my goal: To reduce fears and do everything so that users have a good experience.”

“I want to show that we’re kind and we’re there to help.”

Dental Hygienist Deysi Lemus

Ms. Lemus is part of the team from CIUSSS West-Central Montreal contributing her skills to the success of the Azrieli Clinic, the first in Montreal to offer medical and dental services under one roof for adults who live with intellectual disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders.

Dental Hygienist Deysi Lemus
Dental Hygienist Deysi Lemus

Inaugurated April 2 by Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant, the clinic offers an environment of soothing sounds and calming colours and lighting, as well as adapted equipment such as specialized examination tables and dental chairs, lifts and scales for wheelchairs, and modified entryways and waiting area. A Snoezelen multisensory room helps reduce patients’ agitation. In addition, the clinic schedules appointments ranging from 45 minutes to an hour, compared to 15 minutes in conventional clinics.

“I don’t watch the clock or notice time go by,” says Ms. Lemus, whose dental appointment with the woman lasted nearly 90 minutes. “That’s how much I love working here.”

The Azrieli Clinic offers an alternative to regular dental and medical clinics, which can be stressful for patients who are neurodivergent.

“Often, it’s too noisy and too crowded, so it might trigger them and make them very anxious in those environments,” says Dr. Shari Joseph, a psychologist and Coordinator of Rehabilitation Services at Miriam Home and Services and CLSC services. “And they’re interacting with people who don’t necessarily know much about them.”

The new clinic—a partnership between our CIUSSS and the Azrieli Foundation, with support from the Jewish General Hospital Foundation—relies on the expertise and dedication of numerous medical and dental professionals such as dentists, physicians, nurses and dental hygienists. And Miriam Home’s occupational therapists, specialized educators, behaviour analysts and others specialists have been vital in developing the clinic’s services while providing ongoing support for clientele.

“We have people at Miriam Home who are experts in the area of autism, intellectual disability, physical disabilities, and so they know what to do.”

Dr. Shari Joseph

“They know some of the risk factors associated with different disabilities,” Dr. Joseph adds.

Educator Sony Dupoux from the Guimont Residential Complex of Miriam Home accompanies client Ronald Coyle to the inauguration of the Azrieli Clinic.
Educator Sony Dupoux from the Guimont Residential Complex of Miriam Home accompanies client Ronald Coyle to the inauguration of the Azrieli Clinic.

Sony Dupoux, an Educator at the Guimont Residential Complex of Miriam Home, has accompanied clients to conventional medical and dental clinics, where they can sometimes become anxious and impatient. At the Azrieli Clinic, he’s witnessed a contrast.

“Staff adapt to the person. The approach is centred on the clientele,” he explains. “It gives clients a kind of serenity and confidence they didn’t necessarily have elsewhere.”

The Azrieli Clinic is already demonstrating its importance: Some adult clients are visiting a dentist for the first time in their lives; others are voluntarily returning for follow-ups, says Sean Stirrup, Manager of the Clinic.

“Some have a successful first visit and come back because they’re comfortable,” says Mr. Stirrup, who is also Program Manager at Miriam Home. “It’s very rewarding. We do this type of work to help individuals. Being able to provide medical and dental care to improve their quality of life is so important.”

Watch this video to learn more about the Azrieli Clinic for the Neurodivergent Community.