Shore Celebrates Year of Helping Young Patients With Autism

Shore Pediatric Care Center nurse Misti Martin with a few of the tools in Shore’s sensory friendly toolbox. (Photo courtesy of Shore Medical Center)

It’s been a year since Shore Medical Center established its Sensory Friendly Pediatric Program to help children on the autism spectrum and their families.

This month is Autism Acceptance Month and the one-year anniversary of the program at its Pediatric Care Center, an ER and inpatient unit just for children. Shore developed the program in partnership with the Atlantic County Special Services School District to help children on the autism spectrum receive the best care possible when they come to the hospital.

Going to the hospital can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone, but for children on the spectrum, the sights, sounds and feelings can be especially overwhelming because of how they process the world around them.

Coupled with the pain or discomfort they may be experiencing due to their medical emergency, it can be a traumatizing time for the child and family and the staff providing care. Shore needed to educate its team about the unique needs of children on the spectrum while also creating an environment that helped them become calm enough to get care safely.

The sensory-friendly program was made possible with training and guidance from autism experts at Atlantic County Special Services School District and through a generous donation from an anonymous family.

Shore converted one of its pediatric patient rooms into a sensory-friendly room with their support. It features a colorful remote controlled bubble wall, projector, tactile wall, weighted blankets, communication devices, and a closet full of sensory toys for children to choose from to help calm and distract them.

Atlantic County Special Services School provides ongoing training so that all of Shore’s staff in the Pediatric Care Center are fully educated on how to best help children on the spectrum.

“Even with all the training in the world, nurses typically aren’t kept up-to-date with how to care for someone on the autism spectrum properly,” nurse Misti Martin said.

She continued, “Shore’s sensory-friendly program and training have helped take away many unknowns. This is new territory for some of us; we don’t care for patients with autism on a daily basis. With these children, you have to think completely outside of the box. Having that out-of-the-box equipment and resources to help you is very beneficial.”

Assistant Nurse Manager Jim Hillis reported that over the past year, more than 12 children on the autism spectrum were confirmed to have received medical care in the sensory-friendly program, but he suspects there have been far more.

“Our main focus as medical professionals is to do whatever we have to do to get our patients the care they need and how they need it,” Hillis said. “We are trained to identify when children might benefit from our sensory-friendly program. I’m proud that we’ve been able to help families feel comfortable bringing their child to Shore for care and that we can help children safely get the care they need.”