Providing Support for Children with Special Needs

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This is a topic that I hold very near and dear to my heart, so much so that I am working on my masters degree in developmental disabilities! As like any new Child Life Specialist, it’s already challenging enough to master the art of effectively matching appropriate interventions to a patient’s temperament, family influence, and medical procedure, while working alongside the multidisciplinary team and balancing everything else that comes with the job. Now throw into the loop a child with a developmental disability with whom you have little or no experience in providing support and services for, things can surely become overwhelming. Remember, I work in an emergency room so my scenarios (with any patient) are often quick, urgent, and stressful. So, what’s my game plan? How can I provide Child Life services in a situation where my usual go-to interventions may not be as effective?

First and foremost: ask the parent/caregiver! This is your best source of information because they know exactly what their child needs to cope and feel most comfortable. I will often introduce myself to the patient and the family and then ask them how I can help their child – what form of distraction works best for them? are there any particular environmental changes I can make to help him/her feel more comfortable (dimming the lights, allowing him/her to sit on a chair vs the bed, warmer temperature in the room)? what is his/her favorite cartoon/character?

After speaking with the parent/caregiver, I will have some information in my back pocket on how I can adjust my interventions for this unique situation. Also, I always make sure and have specific toys set aside for kids with special needs – tactile sensory toys, toys that light up, toys that make noise, puzzles with pegs, etc.

I had a chance to ask parents of children with special needs what they felt are some things that heath care professionals can keep in mind when working with their child. Below are their responses:

Please be mindful that just like their typically developing peers, children with special needs are all unique in their own ways – there is no “one size fits all” intervention. What may work for one child may not for another, regardless of their disability/diagnosis.

  • iPad for distraction
  • Asking the doctor to remove his/her white lab coat before entering the room
  • Providing sensory friendly toys
  • Dimming the lights
  • Providing ear mitts to reduce all the noise (it’s easy to forget how noisy the hospital setting really is – everything is beeping, overhead PA, constant new people walking into the room, phones ringing, medical equipment, etc.)
  • Fluorescent light blocker
  • Lead vest to weigh down on the child (maybe your radiology department has an extra one they can lend you!)
  • Bean bag toy ( http://www.orientaltrading.com/reinforced-bean-bags-a2-61_4000.fltr?Ntt=bean%20bag )
  • Disney Soundtrack
  • Not spending a long time in the waiting room, being a priority to get into a room and be seen
  • Having animal figurines for him/her to play with
  • Having candy such as bubblegum, lollipops, or skittles (this one depends on a LOT, be sure to not only check with the parent/caregiver if you can provide this, but first and foremost the nurse/doctor)

Do you have any tips I didn’t mention? Comment below and let me know!

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One thought on “Providing Support for Children with Special Needs

  1. Hi Diane! My name is Alyssa and I started as a CCLS in a Florida hospital ED about a month ago. This post now reminds me of a situation I encountered a few days ago involving a laceration repair on a young child who has been diagnosed with Autism. I was fortunately able to incorporate many of these interventions into my support plan with the patient, and despite a bit of aggression from the patient, the procedure was able to be completed without having to use a papoose or any other restrictive interventions as we initially thought may need to be used. Major props to the doctors involved who were as cautious as possible during this situation! Thanks for all of your great tips, your blog has been really helpful as I start my first job as a CCLS! 🙂

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