Simple changes make hospitals more accommodating for developmentally disabled patients

Navigating the healthcare system is growing more complicated by the day, especially for parents of children with disabilities, writes certified patient advocate Jacqueline O'Doherty in a Hospital Impact blog post. Although many of her clients have had extensive contact with medical providers and hospitals, they have also encountered a surprising lack of understanding of their children's particular healthcare needs.

With autism and other developmental disabilities on the rise, it's clear that a healthcare storm is brewing on the not-so-far away horizon. So how can hospitals improve the level of care for this growing population?

According to Betty, the mother of a teen girl with Asperger's, a high-functioning form of autism, hospitals--and especially the ER--should provide clear and easy-to-understand signage and directions about where to go and what to do.

From first contact in the hospital, anyone dealing with a developmentally disabled (DD) patient should ask if there are any sensory issues that need to be addressed, as fluorescent lights, strange smells and loud noises can all cause sensory overload.

And because conditions like Asperger's can come with strange, repetitive behaviors or lack of impulse control, a private waiting area is important, as is keeping patients informed about how long a wait to expect, notes Betty. If the wait is going to be long, Betty suggests using a beeper system--like those used by some restaurants to alert patrons when their table is ready--to give someone with ADHD or with sensory issues a chance to take a walk outside, away from the noise and confusion of the hospital or ER.

--To learn other ways your hospital can improve care for DD patients, read Jacqueline O'Doherty's full article at Hospital Impact