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Autism-friendly pediatric E.R. unveiled at Inova Loudoun Hospital

Dr. Jill McCabe, medical director of Inova children’s emergency room at Inova Loudoun Hospital (ILH), and Gina Harrison, clinical director of ILH children’s emergency department, unveil new sensory items. Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds
It's been a year in the making, and on Friday the new autism-friendly pediatric emergency room at Inova Loudoun Hospital was officially unveiled.

Consulting rooms in the E.R. can now be equipped with dimmed lighting and soft music. Children are shown pictures of sensory items and can select what they would like to play with, with options including weighted blankets, fidget toys and even a mini-trampoline for those who find it difficult to stay still. Headphones are provided for children who find the environment too noisy.

“We take care of many children with special needs. All kids can be frightened, but those who have cognitive difficulties can be easily frightened,” said Dr. Jill McCabe, medical director of Inova Loudoun's children's emergency room. “Children with autism and sensory processing disorder can be some of the most challenging to treat.”

The decision to improve the sensory environment came about as officials in the pediatric department sought to better their understanding of children's emotional needs. They say they drew on best practices introduced in pediatric facilities across the country.

Throughout the development stages, focus groups were held and more than 350 individuals who have experience with children with sensory difficulties were polled.

Allyson Halverson, a certified child life specialist in the pediatrics department, said staff were eager to be trained in how to “do better for families.”

“We are experts in medical care,” said Gina Harrison, clinical director of Inova Loudoun Hospital Children’s Emergency Department. “We also wanted to fully equip ourselves when it comes to dealing with emotional or behavioral needs.”

Emergency room staff and E.M.S. professionals who transport young patients to hospital took part in a sensory-friendly training program delivered in partnership with the Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus, The George Washington University, and ILH’s Outpatient Specialty Rehabilitation Center.

Parents also have a major part in making sure their child with Autism or SPD has a comfortable experience in the hospital. Signs showing the hospital is sensory friendly are on display in the E.R. and next to the check-in desk. Any parent who declares their child to have special sensory difficulties will be asked to fill out a form detailing their son or daughter's specific needs. How successful the new facility's toys are will be measured through continuous and ongoing parental feedback.

The new facilities are already receiving plaudits. Diane Davison from Sterling used the emergency room a few weeks ago for her sixteen year old son who is autistic to have a C.T. Scan. “We wouldn't have been successful if it hadn't have been for the nurse we saw who utilized the training she had recently received to persuade my son to comply,” Davison said.“She knew he liked the identity bracelets in the hospital so she grabbed a bunch of those and used them a positive reinforcer.”

“Parents are experts in what soothes their child, what works,” McCabe said, adding the department has seen an increase in the number of young patients coming in with autism or behavioral difficulties in recent years.

Autism affects an estimated one in 68 children in the U.S. Nearly half of those with autism will wander or bolt from safety. Boys are five times more likely to have Autism than girls.


How many times do they have to run an article on this facility giving shout-outs to McCabe and positive photos?  This isn’t the first time.

Very nice story.  I’m comforted just reading of dimmed lights and soft music.

The article is hardly about Jill McCabe. It is about a hospital that Dr. McCabe works at and the innovations that hospital is making for patients with autism.

Had to give Democratic shuckster Jill McCabe some positive press.

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