Children with autism and other sensory needs will now have a more sensory-friendly experience when they come to Shore Medical Center's Pediatric Care Center. The new program developed in partnership with the Atlantic County Special Services School District will be available for patients beginning on World Autism Awareness Day, Friday, April 2.
Shore Medical Center has had a separate pediatric ER and inpatient unit since 2011, so it has long recognized the importance of serving children's unique needs to make a hospital visit less scary for them. But children with autism and other sensory disorders can benefit from even more specialized care like Shore is now providing to get the care they need.
From door to discharge, children with sensory needs will have a wide array of resources available at Shore to make the experience less scary. From bubble walls and weighted blankets to a series of familiar footprint decals on the floor to help distract children on the way to the sensory room, Shore is committed to making every step of their care easier throughout their stay. The project was funded in large part by a donation from a local family.
Leigh Finley is a pediatric nurse at Shore Medical Center who has been instrumental in implementing the new program.
"This population of children does better when they are in familiar environments, so we've worked very closely with the Atlantic County Special Services School District to mimic their experience in school. For example, at school, there are footprint decals on the floor to help children focus on getting from point A to point B, and we will use the same 'follow the footprints' decals as well to help children get to their treatment room," Finley said. "We've also provided all of our pediatric ER staff with extensive training with help from the school district, so they understand how to serve them best every step of the way."
Along with the footprints and visual and tactile updates to the Pediatric Care Center, there will also be a cart full of sensory toys and other tools that a child can play with while in the hospital and then take home – including weighted blankets, which provide familiar comfort.
Shore traced the footprints of the youngest members of the family who made the generous donation in support of the project to honor their contribution.
"We're extremely grateful to the three generations of this generous family who made this possible. Their gift will go a long way in helping children get the care they need and help parents feel more supported when they bring their child to the hospital," Finley said.