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New Jersey's First "Autism-Friendly" Pediatric Emergency Room

In 2014, Capital Health announced the start of an “autism-friendly” program in its Pediatric Emergency Department at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell to better serve patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their loved ones.

An emergency room experience can be very stressful for anyone, but particularly for patients with autism, who often have a difficult time with anything new and may have language, social, learning and sensory challenges. Because the emergency room can seem like an extremely threatening place for children and especially children with autism, Pediatric Emergency Department staff at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell receive specialized training to recognize the behaviors that characterize autism and provide a calming setting for patients as well as to better communicate with patients with ASD.

In addition to receiving special training, pediatric emergency nurses use iPads with apps designed to help staff communicate with patients with autism and verbally impaired patients. The devices help medical providers learn the reason why the patient has arrived for care, the patient’s pain and discomfort level, and his or her communication preferences. It also enables staff to better explain what the patient can expect during his or her visit to alleviate fear and confusion. In addition, the use of sensory boxes containing objects with a variety of textures will enable autistic patients to self-soothe and better deal with the stress of being in the hospital.

Hospital staff worked with a group of parents of children with autism to refine the program prior to the launch to ensure its effectiveness. The program was developed in conjunction with Emergency Medical Associates, which helped institute a similar program at a hospital in New York State, one of the first in the country.

About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are collectively called autism spectrum disorder.