Dignity Health California Hospital provides sensory kits to help ER patients who have autism

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, May 2, 2024
Local hospital provides sensory kits to help ER patients with autism
Dignity Health California Hospital is providing sensory inclusion kits to help emergency room patients who have autism.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Being treated in an emergency room is tough on most people, but it can be especially daunting if you're a person with autism spectrum disorder. In honor of Autism Awareness Month in April, a local hospital unveiled some new tools to help these patients get healing care.

Dealing with a medical emergency can be an unpredictable situation for 9-year-old Benny Martinez. He has autism spectrum disorder.

"Having a special needs child with sensory challenges makes emergency situations even more difficult to deal with," said Megan Martinez, Benny's mom.

In an emergency room or any other busy clinical setting, there can be loud noises, a crowd of strangers or uncomfortable lighting. All this can cause sensory overload.

"I get really nervous. And I start fidgeting in my seat, or I'll get up and I'll walk around like I'll pace around the room," said Katie Sue Burnett.

For patients like Burnett and Martinez, the staff at Dignity Health California Hospital provides Sensory Inclusion Kits, complete with various items, to make the visit go more smoothly.

"These kits will be very helpful for blocking out the sound, blocking out some of the light, and helping to provide distractions," said emergency medicine physician, Dr. Patrick Shanovich.

Each kit contains noise-canceling headphones, dark sunglasses, fidget toys and communication tools such as colorful cards to help patients explain how they're feeling or what they need.

"Pointing can be easier than speaking," said Sam Scriven, director of mission integration.

Something as simple as a clicker or spinner can provide diversion when patients are stressed.

"We want to make sure that all communities are seen and heard, that their voice matters," he said.

"The launch of the sensory kits is just one more step in that right direction," said Garrett South, director of patient experience.

The CDC says about 1 in 36 children has been diagnosed with being on the spectrum, but doctors say the kits can be helpful for other patients as well. Martinez said every item provides exactly what he needs.

"Without these, it will make you overwhelmed. But with these, I would be like, not overwhelmed," he said.

The goal is to promote better healing.