New program helps families with autism or developmental disability prepare for hospital visit

Coming to the hospital for a planned medical visit or procedure can be a stressful event for a child and their family. There are the typical stressors that you would expect – finding parking, locating the appointment and finding a way to pass the time during periods of waiting. It’s enough to make anyone a little edgy. Now, imagine if the child coming to the hospital has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum or a developmental disability. The opportunity for stressors immediately increases. Thomas Hobson, director of Child Life at Le Bonheur, shares about a new program to help children and their families prepare for a visit to the hospital.

Children with a developmental disabilities or a diagnosis along the autism spectrum face some unique challenges. For instance, changes to their schedules or being introduced into new environments can be overwhelming, even more so than for other children. A child’s response to the stress can be through various behaviors that make the experience more challenging for everyone involved.

Special accommodations may be needed for children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with pervasive developmental delays. Le Bonheur is now offering a new service to help families of children who may need special accommodations for their visit to the hospital or Le Bonheur clinic.

The goal of the program is to help eliminate any additional obstacles or stress by working with families to identify appropriate special accommodations. Since each child is different, the process starts off by speaking with the family to find the child’s strengths and potential opportunities. Once that is established, we develop an individualized plan for the child and their families. In addition, the program works with the staff in the areas where the child and their family will be receiving treatment. By having more information about the child, prior to the visit, Le Bonheur staff will be prepared with strategies that will help ease transitions and reduce possible stressors.

Special accommodations will look different for each child. For instance, if the child has food obsessive behaviors, we will work with the family to develop a plan for getting to their appointment without passing the cafeteria, vending machines or other pitfalls. Another example would be if the child has a fear of confined spaces, like an elevator, we would meet the family at the door and lead them through the stairs. Another child may feel greater stress when introduced to strangers, so Le Bonheur can accommodate this by limiting the number of people who enter the room to those who are absolutely necessary.

Families with a Le Bonheur clinic appointment or planned hospital admission may call the Family Resource Center to discuss special accommodations. Please e-mail the Le Bonheur Family Resource Center at or call 901-287-7151 for more information.