autistic children and hospital

We’ve had a rather unusual bank holiday weekend here in the Purple house. My autistic child Super Kid developed an ear ache a while ago, which unfortunately developed into a fairly serious infection called mastoiditis. After an unexpected visit to accident and emergency, he needed to stay two nights in hospital for treatment and monitoring.

Now we are home and he is on the mend, I realise that the hospital experience was more difficult for Super Kid because he’s autistic. So I decided to write a post about the ways in which the hospital experience (whether that’s an unexpected emergency or a scheduled visit) can be handled to make it easier for autistic children.

How to help an autistic child who has to go to hospital;

Hospital passport; If you’re in the UK you can download and fill out a hospital passport to take with your child to hospital. The hospital passport explains your child’s traits, needs and best ways to communicate.  It might be a good idea to have one prepared in advance in case of emergency. That way you can just grab it when you need it. Download the passport here. 

Inform the hospital about your child’s autism. I mentioned it at the reception when we checked in. This meant that staff who cared for my child were aware of his autism and able to treat him appropriately.

They offered us a quieter waiting area. They allowed him extra processing time when asking questions. Also they were able to take into account his high pain threshold when he reported his pain levels.

As much as possible explain to your child why you are taking them to hospital. Before any examinations or treatments explain what will happen, why it’s being done and how it’s likely to feel. Children with autism are likely to be extra anxious about hospital visits and keeping them informed every step of the way will help them to cope.

If you have a child who is non verbal and/or has an intellectual disability use your usual strategies to explain. Take PECS with you to hospital if you usually use them. Show me where fans can also be useful.

Hospitals can be noisy, busy and unpredictable. This is difficult for those on the autistic spectrum and can cause sensory overload. Take anything you usually use with your child to cope with these issues. Your toolkit could include ear defenders, an eye mask, sensory toys, gaming devices for distraction and something comforting like their favourite cuddly toy or blanket.

Take your child’s preferred foods. Hospital food can be a challenge for everyone, but for an autistic child it could mean not eating at all. Take snacks and foods which you know your child will enjoy.

Try to maintain a routine. Whilst in hospital our routine was breakfast, get washed and dressed, play, lunch, play, dinner, watch TV, bedtime. This can be difficult as visits from doctors, nurses doing obs, and giving medications etc happen at unexpected times. But if you can maintain a routine around these interruptions this can really help your child to stay calm and regulated.