As the world becomes more aware and more accepting of people on the autism spectrum and their unique talents and needs, we’ve seen an increase in the number of places that are Certified Autism Centers™ (CAC). Some of these places include cafes, restaurants, theme parks, grocery stores, movie theaters, cruise lines, and even entire communities. And now, for the very first time, an emergency room will join the ranks of these autism-friendly locations.
What could possibly be more stressful than going to the emergency room? Even for neurotypical people, being injured or ill and having to go to an unfamiliar place with strange people and cold medical instruments to be treated can be scary. But for people with autism, this can be an even more difficult experience—there are bright lights, weird smells, loud noises, and other uncomfortable stimuli that may be incredibly difficult to handle.
But now there’s one place where families with a member on the autism spectrum can go where professionals will do their very best to make a frightening and frustrating situation as comfortable as possible. The emergency room at Ellis Hospital in Schenedactady, New York, is now a Certified Autism Center. Its staff members have been working hard to earn that certification, and they are now well-equipped to care for people with a wide range of abilities and sensitivities all across the autism spectrum.
“All of us at Ellis Medicine are proud of this first,” said Dr. Rob McHugh, Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, “but this goes way beyond being first. The real importance here is that we were able to take this step toward improving the ER experience for those on the spectrum. The healthcare profession always strives to continuously improve care for all. Through our training to help our staff better understand the unique needs of individuals with autism, our aim is to turn that understanding into better healthcare outcomes.”
As part of this project, Ellis Hospital will hand out sensory toolkits at nurse’s stations to patients who need help calming down. There will also be a mobile low-sensory “room” for ASD patients who are feeling overstimulated. But most importantly, patients will experience a better sense of empathy and understanding from their doctors and nurses.
“This is an amazing first step toward changing the care and culture in our emergency rooms. So many of us on the spectrum become frequent visitors and miss that key piece of understanding from medical staff, which leads to extended treatment and exam times or even misdiagnosis,” said IBCCES board member and autism advocate Dr. Stephen Shore.
Ellis Hospital’s certification is the first step in the Autism Action Plan that New York Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has in the works to increase acceptance and inclusion of people with ASD and increase their independence. Santabarbara’s son, Michael, is on the autism spectrum.
“Part of the solution is addressing sensory overload and that’s exactly what the new sensory-friendly emergency room at Ellis Medicine is designed to do,” Santabarbara said. “These specially designed treatment areas provide for a quieter setting, dimmed lighting, and a number of other sensory control measures that can significantly improve outcomes. The specialized training provided for hospital staff will lead to improved diagnosis, treatment, and assistance for patients and their families that ensures their unique needs are met to the greatest extent possible.”
The Certified Autism Center designation is granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). It is only given to facilities or organizations where at least 80 percent of the staff is highly trained, fully equipped, and certified to help people with autism. The designation also requires a full review of the onsite accommodations.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?