By Kora Behrens, Clinical Nurse Manager, Medical Solutions
The stats on Autism speak volumes. This developmental disability affects nearly 2.8 million people and their families. Nearly one percent of the world’s population suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorders and it is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. On average, Autism costs a family nearly $60,000 a year and there is no medical detection or cure.
As we wrap up April, join us in celebrating National Autism Awareness Month. This year the Autism Society has pushed this nationwide effort beyond merely promoting Autism awareness and looks to encourage friends and families to become active partners in the movement towards acceptance and appreciation. For many years, Autism awareness has been about supporting individuals with Autism. Let’s embrace a new perspective, one in which we focus on the rest of us. We should aim to advocate for acceptance and inclusion in schools and communities. We, as a society, should promote appreciation for the unique aspects of all people and we should value these individuals for their unique talents and abilities.
To truly make an impact in our society, nurses across the country should push to promote patience and compassion for patients who suffer from Autism. To gain the trust of this patient population we first need to understand what exactly Autism Spectrum Disorders are. They are a cluster of disorders characterized by impaired social skills, communication difficulties, cognitive delays, and repetitive behaviors. It is highly likely that many nurses will take care of patients who suffer from Autism within their career and it is important to know how to care for them.
Some recommended tips and strategies to adequately provide the proper care for this patient population are to:
- Secure a non-stimulating environment
- Talk with the child’s parents first and include them in your nursing care
- Perform physical assessment away from the child but progressively move centrally towards them
- If needing to use medical equipment, use them on the child’s parent first
- Lower yourself to the child’s height level
- Be gentle and consistent with your behavior and actions
- Limit encounters with healthcare personnel
- Stick to a schedule
- Reward good behaviors
These tactics can be helpful when you are working to establish rapport with your patient but to also get them the necessary care that is needed.
One of the biggest challenges with Autism is knowing what care is needed and the source of the problem. There is no known single cause for Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Although researchers do not know the exact cause of Autism, many theories are being investigated including links among heredity, genetics, and medical problems.
If you want to make a difference this month and raise awareness for Autism, there are several ways to get involved in your community. One way of getting involved is searching the Nationwide Autism-Related Services and Supports with Autism Source. This database will help to get you in contact with the Autism organization in your region. You can also reach out to your local affiliate for information and education on how to get involved.
Additionally, there’s free e-newsletter through the Autism Society that anyone can sign up for. It offers the latest updates, news, research, education, etc.
If you wish, you can also attend an Autism event or take a free online course on Autism that increases general knowledge on the disorder.
Lastly, if you simply want to make a small difference this month or any time throughout the year, please take any opportunity that you can to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an Autism diagnosis each year. While this may seem small, the ripple effect that it will create is much larger in comparison.