TriStar Centennial is trying to be more accommodating for kids on the autism spectrum. It's part of a national trend in children's hospitals to be more 'sensory-friendly' given the increasing prevalence of spectrum disorders.
A hospital can be a tough place for any child prone to sensory overload — crying children in the ER waiting room, a rotating cast of nurses asking questions, bright lights and beeping monitors.
"Sometimes they're so busy paying attention to these sensory things that they're feeling that we don't necessarily pay attention to…that they're unable to interact with us," says Donna Perlin, a pediatric emergency doctor who spearheaded Centennial's effort, rolled out in recent weeks.
With input from Autism Tennessee, the hospital now asks patients as they arrive whether the child has any special needs. And they've outfitted some rooms with dimmable lighting, soothing toys and noise canceling headphones. The children's hospital has also minimized sounds as much as possible, like beeping cardiac monitors.
"We've actually made it so that those monitors no longer ring in the room," Perlin says. "They only ring at the nursing station so the child's not bothered by it."
Centennial is also trying to limit how many nurses a sensitive child has to interact with.
Perlin says a few ideas are taking more time — like softening the plastic ID bracelets that seem to bother kids with sensory issues. While children's hospitals in Orlando and the Washington D.C. area are farther down the sensory-friendly road, Perlin notes that no one has determined yet what is most helpful and established a "blueprint," though the Orlando children's hospital is studying it.
The TriStar network is attempting to expand the effort to its emergency room in Smyrna. Other HCA-owned facilities are studying the pilot project.