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Northridge Hospital Launches Sensory Inclusion Kits for Autistic Patients

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Dignity Health announced the implementation of sensory kits during National Autism Month, the start of a new program in its emergency departments across Southern California, including Dignity Northridge Hospital Medical Center. 

Hospital visits can be stressful for anyone, and especially so for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who have an increased frequency of emergency visits compared to others. Each sensory kit is equipped with noise-canceling headphones, dark sunglasses, fidgets, and communication tools.

According to the National Institutes of Health, hospitals can be overwhelming for people with autism, due to the communication and social skills deficits, lower capacity to adapt to disruption, and sensory hypersensitivity that are typical for autistic patients. The active and ever-changing pace of an emergency situation calls for flexibility and acceptance of change, something that is often challenging for people with autism.

Place that emergency in a hospital with bright fluorescent lights, beeping of alarms and machines, unfamiliar smells of chemicals, tastes of medicine, and you have an environment prone to sensory overload. Often people with autism have an overactive sensory system to certain stimuli, which can lead to aggressive or self-injurious behavior, increased anxiety, repetitive stimuli, such as rocking or humming, avoidance, and even elopement.

“At Dignity Health, we pride ourselves in patient-centered care and safety in the workplace,” shares Jill Welton, Dignity Health Southern California Market President. “By recognizing the importance of addressing sensory inclusion, deploying sensory kits and appropriate training for frontline staff, we are making a difference in the patient experience.”

Today, research shows about one in 36 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) according to estimates from the Center for Disease Controls Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. 

Ten years ago, that number was one in 69. With the increased prevalence, the importance of health care workers and first responders understanding autism is essential to providing appropriate and equitable care.

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