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

Capital Health announced today that it has launched an “autism-friendly” program in its pediatric emergency department to better serve patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.

Pediatric emergency department staff at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell has received 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.

“The 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,” said Dr. William Dalsey, chairman, Capital Health Department of Emergency Medicine.

“Because the emergency room can seem like an extremely threatening place for children and especially children with autism, we realized we needed to implement practices to create a better encounter for them and their families,” said Dr. Zachary Kassutto, medical director, Capital Health Pediatric Emergency Department.

In addition to receiving special training, pediatric emergency nurses will 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.

“The noise, bright lights and fast pace of an emergency room can be disturbing to patients with autism. Because they respond and communicate differently, they generally need safe and supportive environments and this is particularly true in emergency rooms,” said Dr. Olga Goldfarb, director of the Autism Program at Capital Health’s Capital Institute for Neurosciences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD.

About the Pediatric Emergency Department

The 17-bed pediatric emergency department at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell is completely separate from the adult emergency department. It is staffed by highly qualified board certified pediatricians and specially trained pediatric nurses. It is available 24 hours/day, seven days/week.

About the Capital Institute for Neurosciences Autism Program

In addition to providing an autism friendly approach in its emergency room, Capital Health offers an Autism Program within its Capital Institute for Neurosciences. The program is one of the pediatric neurology services at the Institute which includes evaluation (including genetic testing when appropriate) for developmental disorders like autism and ADD/ADHD, epilepsy, movement disorders, and headaches. Additionally, the Institute offers neuro-imaging and testing including EEG and EMG, pharmacological treatment and management, neuropsychological evaluations, as well as behavioral interventions and counseling. Capital Health is working with families in the region who have children with autism to develop a multidisciplinary center of excellence that meets their needs.

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 now all called autism spectrum disorder.