A Better Emergency Center for Those With Special Needs

Overwhelming. Scary. Intimidating. There are many words that can be used to describe a trip to the Emergency Center (EC). There are loud and persistent noises and alarms, distressed patients waiting to be seen, and the constant movement of people and equipment. Plus, there is fear of the unknown: How long will treatment take? Will the treatment hurt?

A visit to the EC can be even more stressful if you are the parent of the patient; and even more so if your child has special needs.

Special needs, in this context, refers to a difference in perception of the world around you from the average person. For instance, a person may have sensory processing limitations. A person may have a communication difficulty, whether hearing or speech. A person may have intellectual difficulty in understanding what is being said or being done. These are just a few examples.

ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital (TCH) Emergency Center, Bittersweet Farms, the Autism Early Learning Program and the Family Advisory Council have collaborated to recognize these needs and develop ways to help make the visit less stressful. Here’s how they have worked together to change the EC experience:

  • Sunglasses are available for patients who may be sensitive to the bright lights.
  • Noise-canceling ear muffs are available for those sensitive to the harsh and constant sounds
  • Communication tools, such as whiteboards, pictures and symbols can be used with patients who have difficulty with communication.
  • Educational photos of instruments commonly used in the EC are available to familiarize patients with their care.
  • Photos of the EC are used to familiarize patients with the places they may visit at the hospital. These photos and the instrument photos may be used one at a time or be placed on a schedule for those patients who require more structure.
  • Calming tools such as pinwheels for calm breathing, soothing gel drops and stress balls—can be provided for patients who could benefit from sensory input.
  • Exercise balls allow patients who need to move a tool to bounce safely.
EC tools at TCH

Finally, the most important ingredient for a smooth visit to the EC is self-advocacy. The EC staff knows that as the patient, or the caregiver of a patient with special needs, you know best what will help. Patients are encouraged to share this information so that staff can be effective in treating patients with the care he or she deserves. Even if it seems unorthodox, please let them help.

If you or your loved one has special needs, let the TCH EC staff know at triage. The staff is also aware that some patients can become very anxious or distraught while waiting, due to sensory overload. If this should occur, please alert medical personnel immediately so a quiet area may be arranged for the patient whenever possible.

The EC wants to provide the best medical care to every patient, regardless of their abilities or their needs. If you have more suggestions about ways to help patients with special needs, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Aurora Dayne is the chairperson of the Family Advisory Council at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital where she works to foster communication and relationships between patients, their families and caregivers.