Making a difference for children on the autism spectrum

Patient and family centered care in action

The Safety & Security team at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital created "Coping Kits" to help children with autism better cope with their hospital experience.

“Coping Kits” help children with autism adjust to the sensory experience of being at the hospital.

A visit to the doctor can cause anxiety for any child, but for a child on the autism spectrum, it can be especially challenging.

Sometimes a child’s anxiety can build to a point where it becomes problematic for the care team to do their jobs. Those of us in the security team at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital started to see this happening more and more frequently. We’d get phone calls from clinicians asking for help with a developmentally delayed patient. We quickly realized that the way we might typically approach a patient was not effective in working with children on the autism spectrum.

We heard time and time again that some of these children had been denied care at other facilities because their behavior – which of course stemmed from the anxiety the environment around them triggered – made it too challenging for the clinicians to deliver care. We wanted to see how we could help ease their anxiety and make the experience more positive for everyone, so we started researching autism and ways to better respond.

We first looked to see what other healthcare facilities were doing, and were surprised to find that there were no facilities we could use as a benchmark. The in-house autism specialists at Mott were tremendously helpful, and we ultimately formed the UMHS Autism Spectrum Disorder Work Group, which includes family members of people who have autism.

I attended training from the Crisis Prevention Institute that helped me understand how to better deal with the sensory issues individuals with autism have. We developed autism awareness training for our team and created a Coping Kit that we give each Mott department that participates in our training. The training provides an overview of autism and discusses the five main areas in which these patients are affected —communication, socialization, repetitive patterns, sensory and cognition. By helping everyone better understand autism, we are all more capable and prepared to help these patients cope with their medical experience.

mott blog - hope award promoSome of the strategies we’ve used to help our patients with autism are to play music, dim the lights and count out loud. For one patient who had a difficult time even getting out of the car and coming into the main door, we were able to arrange for the patient to enter a back staff door where there was less commotion. That simple accommodation allowed the child to come in and be treated without the anxiety experienced with previous visits.

Our Coping Kits have a book that covers the training we do, as well as several toys and other sensory outlets. The kits have been very successful and some departments are even requesting additional kits.

If you asked me 10 years ago if I’d be knee deep in autism awareness, I would have laughed. But here I am, and I’m really grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to make a difference for these children and their families.

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jacob mouroJacob Mouro’s department, UMHS Security and Entrance Services, won an Evan Newport Team HOPE Award in 2012 for their efforts to encourage Patient and Family Centered Care. The HOPE Awards were established to formally recognize the ongoing patient and family centered care practices and initiatives that are happening each day at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. Anyone can nominate a staff member, team, or family volunteer who has demonstrated ongoing commitment to the philosophy of Patient and Family Centered Care practices to win the HOPE award.

best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.