Skip to main content

Injections are a necessary part of life for our children – from routine immunisations to blood tests, dental work or jabs for trips abroad. But some children with learning disabilities will not be able to rationalise that the small amount of pain is greatly outweighed by the benefits. 

Needlephobia – an extreme, persistent and excessive fear of needles – is said to affect anywhere between 3.5 per cent and 10 per cent of the population, but it can be particularly associated with autistic spectrum disorder. Symptoms can be physical, psychological and behavioural. They include palpitations, shortness of breath and an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Even thinking about a procedure involving needles can trigger feelings of panic and an almost overwhelming desire to escape. 

For parents whose children have needlephobia, routine medical and dental appointments can become a nightmare, the more so because complete avoidance is not possible. At some point their children will need an injection, so it is important to seek help. 

Treating needlephobia

The starting point, says chartered psychologist Nigel Blagg, is to look back through a child’s history and try to identify the factors that may have triggered the phobia in the first place and could potentially maintain and even exacerbate it. ‘Has the child ever had an injection and under what circumstances? Have they ever witnessed somebody having an injection, has anybody in their family got a problem with this and has it become a learned, acquired phobia because of the experiences of other members of the family? You need to do your homework,’ he says.

And parents may inadvertently be making things worse. ‘If the adult dealing with the child is highly anxious about the child’s behaviour and is very attentive to that and can’t be calm and reassuring, or provide the child with the kind of relaxed reassurance that they need, that might not help,’ he says.

Practical steps that minimise the discomfort of the procedure can make a big difference. ‘I would try a variety of tricks - elaborate forms of bribery and, best of all, anaesthetic cream,’ says Dr Richard Stevens, who practised as a GP for 30 years. ‘This does not remove the scary anticipation part but this can be reduced by being quick, not making the patient wait and not showing them the needle.’

Desensitisation and CBT

Desensitisation or behavioural exposure involves establishing all the fear-inducing factors and creating an anxiety hierarchy from them. Gradual and repeated exposure means that over time, the triggers lose their power to distress. ‘For a child, this might start, for example, with a toy needle or picture of a needle or a visit to a doctor’s surgery just to chat,’ says Blagg.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works by finding ways of managing negative feelings and behaviour. It can be highly practical – injecting an orange to reassure a patient that the needle won’t break, for example – and even getting dental staff to use anaesthetic cream on their own mouths to demonstrate how effective it is.

For a case history treatment of a 13-year-old with severe needlephobia through CBT see https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7cfc/f581398c0ad0254e370617766fd90174c362.pdf

Hypnotheraphy

Clinical hypnotherapy uses deep relaxation and visualisation to help people cope better with phobia triggers and remain calm. While some healthcare professionals question how well it works, supporters say that this can be highly effective in helping them to manage their phobias.

Needle fears and autism

Social stories, role playing and modelling can all help to work through the child’s fears. For a template social story on blood tests see http://www.johnson-center.org/downloads/pdfs/blood-draw.pdf

For a case study on helping a 10-year-old autistic boy through his intense fear of blood tests see http://drkarenlevine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/LevineASQ37Fall2013.pdf

Further information on needlephobia

Anxiety UK has an advice booklet on needlephobia

 

 

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles


  • Special educational needs introduction

    Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need. Our SEN consultancy team advises on both special schools, and the mainstream schools with good SEN support, from reception through to the specialist colleges for 19+. Special Educational Needs Index

  • Finding a state grammar school

      There are currently around 163 state funded grammar schools located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. Almost half of these are in what are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools. How to find a state grammar school Word of warning: not all selective grammar schools have…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30,000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Catchment maps for English state schools by…

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe or Charlotte Church standing. And sometimes, just sometimes, parental pride is justified.

  • Uni in the USA... and beyond

    The British guide to great universities from Harvard to Hong Kong. We tell you how to choose, how to apply, how to pay. Why study in the US? Ask the US-UK Fulbright Commission... Ask the US-UK Fulbright Commission who report that you're in good company: the US is the top destination for international students worldwide.  In fact, over 11,000 British students chose the States for their studies last year. Read more Scholarships for International Students Here's where you click to receive our giant pdf on US university scholarships for international students, covering how to find financial aid and how... Read more Can I afford it? America might proclaim…


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Monopoly Money

 
 

The Good Schools Guide 22nd edition is out now, and for a limited time get a one month free subscription with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide 22nd, or The Good Schools Guide to London.