Hospitals use cart full of tricks to calm young autism patients

Published: Nov. 6, 2017 at 4:04 PM EST
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According to the CDC, one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. Children with ASD are 20 percent more likely to be hospitalized for injuries than typically developing children. For a child with ASD, a hospital visit can provoke challenging behaviors. But now, hospitals are using a cart full of tricks to calm patients with ASD and allow them to get the care they need.

Anna loves to dance.

She also has autism. Children like Anna have a hard time communicating their needs to others.

“She knew I wasn’t understanding. So, I’d see the pain in her eyes because she’s literally trying to tell her mommy something, and she knows her mommy doesn’t understand,” said Angelique Hall, Anna’s mother.

And when it comes to hospital visits, it can be challenging for both parents and healthcare providers. It may be difficult to understand the needs or wants of a patient with ASD and it may be tough to keep them calm while they are in the hospital. Allison Rein is an emergency room child life specialist.

“For kids on the autism spectrum disorder, with other sensory difficulties, it’s gonna be completely out of their normal day,” stated Allison Rein, CCLS, a Child Life Specialist at Arnold Palmer Hospital.

So to keep kids calm, Rein relies on a cart full of simple tricks. It’s called the sensory cart. The cart is packed with a bubble tube, aromatherapy diffusers. And a projector to display relaxing images on the nearest wall.

The cart can even pump out tunes to help soothe anxious kids. Haley Messmore, CCLS, Inpatient Critical Care Unit at Arnold Palmer Hospital uses the sensory cart for her admitted patients.

“Sensory stimulation is a really important thing in the hospital when they have lots of unfamiliar settings and noises and people. Providing those opportunities where they feel that something is familiar is really important,” said Messmore.

Giving patients with ASD a safe space so they can get the care they need.

The cart is not only for children with ASD. Specialists can use this for any kid going into surgery to calm their nerves. Most children’s hospitals around the country have a sensory cart similar to this that can be requested if it is available.


REPORT #2473

BACKGROUND: About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability and occurs more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10 percent of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders. Almost half of children identified with ASD have average to above average intellectual ability. Children born to older parents, born prematurely or with low birth weight are at a higher risk for having ASD. ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83 percent, while one or more psychiatric diagnoses is 10 percent.



AUTISM AND BEHAVIORS: Autism itself does not cause challenging behaviors. However, some of the underlying biological processes that result in autism might result in behaviors that are outside of a person’s control. The core features of autism are areas in which difficulties can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, anxiety or lack of control, resulting in behavioral responses. Since behavior is often a form of communication, many individuals with autism voice their wants, needs or concerns through behaviors, rather than words. Many behaviors are also responses to previous experiences. How we respond to these actions can have a significant effect on what the patient does the next time he/she is in a similar situation. Anna’s mother shared, “After almost a year now of Anna using her communication app, Livox, and her singing all of the time, she has learned to speak and sing sentences. Also, sensory/touch-wise, I have gotten Anna to hold and take small bites of watermelon chunks! That’s a big deal because she never touched any foods that were cold or wet. She has her screaming autism fits still, but my picking her up and slow dancing with her as she looks around the room still calms her and now she’s learning what ‘no screaming please?’ means. I say ‘Anna, just say help me’. And, she will stop the screaming sometimes and say, ‘help me, please’. She’s doing well.”



NEW FINDINGS: Child life specialist, Allison Rein, CCLS, with Arnold Palmer Hospital in Florida, says, “Along with taking care of their medical needs, it is important to take into consideration the developmental needs of each patient as well.” One way Arnold Palmer Hospital is helping meet developmental needs is to make the hospital environment more calming with something called a sensory cart. This cart includes a bubble tube, aroma therapy diffusers, sensory objects, and weighted fiber optic strands. New research being conducted at Duke University shows promising results in a study using autistic children’s own umbilical cord stem cells to treat symptoms of autism. Previous research showed that cord blood cells can help reduce inflammation and signal cells to help repair damaged areas of the brain. This study investigates whether similar success will be shown in children with ASD. A majority of the children in the study, 70 percent, showed impressive improvements in autism symptoms and behaviors after a transfusion of their own umbilical cord blood. A second, larger study is now underway in hopes of finding a treatment for autistic children.



* For More Information, Contact:

Alayna Curry, APR

Manager, Media Relations & Public Affairs