Medical Center Unveils Autism-Friendly Emergency Room

A visit to the emergency room can be difficult or uncomfortable for anyone, but for a child on the autism spectrum, it can be incredibly traumatic. The fast-paced environment, bright lights, noises, and sense of urgency can have the individual feel very overwhelmed. Due to this issue, one medical center has developed a center specifically for the needs of individuals with autism.

Dr. Olga Goldfarb, director of the Autism Program at Capital Health’s Institute for Neurosciences in New Jersey, states, “For patients with autism and for their families or caregivers, [a trip to the E.R.] can be a nightmare experience”. She continues, “They have problems interacting and approaching other people. It can be very scary for them.” As a result, Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell has launched the first “autism-friendly” pediatric emergency department in New Jersey.

All hospital staff in the pediatric unit spent the past few months receiving specialized training to help aid individuals on the spectrum. They were taught to recognize various behaviors associated with ASD, and how to help provide a calmer experience and work with their specific needs. For example, Heather Keller, nurse manager of pediatric services, states, “[Individuals with ASD] do not like fluorescent lighting, so [we] turn down the lights. We have an overhead light that we shine in the corner”.

The current pediatric emergency department at Capital Health is separate from its adult emergency department, and features 17 beds. Although it is being rolled out in the Hopewell medical branch first, they are already planning for expansion. In addition to the training that is being given to the medical professionals, the center incorporates a parent focus group who meets with staff to discuss ways that the hospital can best care for children with autism. Toys, blankets, and other comforting objects are provided at the nurses’ stations, categorized by their appearance and texture (depending on what the patient prefers).

The pediatric emergency nurses also use iPads with apps designed to help staff communicate with patients on the spectrum. This technology will assist the nurses to understand why the patient is there, their levels of pain, and their preferred method of communication.

With the autism diagnosis rate in the United States reaching a high of 1 in every 68 children, it is becoming more essential to develop programs that assist individuals on the spectrum in various aspects. This model for an autism-friendly medical center is something that other medical centers in the nation should consider adapting, as there are increasing numbers of individuals who need specialized services in order to receive the most effective care.

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