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Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley

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HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley

EMA partnered with HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s Broadway Campus to develop a program to provide an “autism-friendly” experience in the emergency department (ED).

The program uses iPads with autism-specific apps that 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. Sensory boxes provide objects with a variety of textures to enable autistic patients to self-soothe and better deal with stress.

“The hospital’s administration embraced this initiative whole-heartedly, and it’s great to see how these tools are truly improving the care experience,” said Fareed N. Fareed, MD, FACEP, director of the emergency department at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley.

For Meghan Goodnow, lead clinical technician in HealthAlliance’s ED, the tools provided through the new program enabled her to quickly assess and calm an agitated patient – and provide peace of mind to his parents.

“A young boy with autism was yelling and crying very loudly when he came in to the ED with burns on his fingers. I brought the iPad over to him and we sat together and quickly navigated through the screens,” explained Goodnow. “He was much happier communicating using the iPad and I could see the look of relief on his parents’ faces as the child relaxed and found a way to explain his pain.”

Goodnow also offered the boy the opportunity to select an item from the sensory box. Noting that he chose a squishy item, she made his ice packs “extra squishy” so they were more appealing to the young patient.

“When they were leaving, the patient’s mother said that she was very impressed with our staff's patience and understanding toward their son. She said she was thankful to have a group of people willing to take the time to make her son feel special and to attempt to understand and communicate with him. She was planning to tell other local parents about our new service,” said Goodnow.

A young, non-verbal patient also found comfort by using a toy from the sensory box.

“The young man’s caregiver said that he probably wouldn’t be able to use the iPad but that the patient liked toys that made noise,” explained Pamela Ausanio, RN. “I offered him a pinwheel that moved and made a sound at the same time. The patient blew on the pinwheel during the evaluation, distracting him and easing the stress that can be associated with a physical exam. The young man’s caregiver was impressed with our attentiveness to his client’s disability. As the community becomes more aware of our services for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I think we’ll see an increase in patients with autism.”

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