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About Sickkids
About SickKids

October 25, 2016

Autism Awareness Month: SickKids improves care for kids with autism

By Katie Sullivan, Intern, Communications and Public Affairs

The emergency room can be a scary place for any child. It’s busy, noisy, and chaotic and can be hard to deal with when already under distress. For children with autism, these features are particularly difficult to cope with and there are no clear pathways for clinicians to help children and families navigate that process. For Autism Awareness Month, we talked to a SickKids expert on why we need to be more sensitive and accommodating to our patients with unique needs.

Children with autism often need some form of accommodation in order to enhance their experience with care when they come to SickKids. Dr. Barbara Muskat, Director of Social Work at SickKids, has done extensive research around the experience of autistic patients and their families when they come into the emergency room. According to Muskat, the findings were not optimal and unfortunately not surprising either. Parents have had difficult experiences communicating the details of their child’s autism, and clinicians are often focused on the immediate medical issues at hand and do not ask about special requirements.

In an effort to foster improved communications and enabling parents to explain the specific requirements for their children, a few initiatives have been put in place around SickKids. Staff now have access to an online learning module that helps them recognize signs and symptoms for when a child may need special accommodation. A new tool has been developed which will help parents inform staff about their child’s unique needs. The ultimate goal is for these initiatives to be widespread, across SickKids and beyond.

“For the longest time autism was seen as less common, but the prevalence is growing,” says Muskat, “There’s now a one in 68 prevalence rate.”

Autism spectrum disorder typically presents itself through difficulties in communication and social behavior.

The long term vision for staff like Muskat is to foster a community in which everyone’s unique needs can be accommodated. “We are not the hospital for neurotypical kids, we’re the hospital for all children who are sick,” says Muskat.

Read more on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dr. Barbara Muskat’s work.