Program that improves health care experience for children with ASD looking to expand

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By Ben Maycock

A group of IWK Health Centre researchers, clinicians, administrators and families is changing the way care is being provided to youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Building Alliances for Autism Needs in Clinical Encounters (BALANCE) is an interactive online program which teaches healthcare providers about ASD and ways they can effectively tailor care to meet the individual needs of each child and family.  Launched at the IWK’s Day Surgery Unit in December 2016, the program’s success is now leading it to expand to other sites.

“Youth with ASD have unique sensory, emotional and communication needs that can make health-care experiences challenging,” says Dr. Jill Chorney, the study supervisor. “Because these experiences are challenging, families of youth with ASD may delay or avoid seeking health care until problems are more complex or serious.”

IWK staff, physicians and families developed BALANCE to ensure healthcare professionals have the knowledge, skills and support to feel comfortable caring for youth with ASD and their families. For  example, a child with hyper-sensory issues may be provided sunglasses or noise-cancelling headphones, while a child who is a linear thinker may be walked through what they can expect using a set of visual cue cards.

“Using BALANCE we take a few minutes to slow down and understand that child –not the textbook disorder, but the child,” says Dr. Stuart Wright, an anesthesiologist at the IWK, and a parent of a child with autism.  “The whole team then works together to care for the child and communicate with the family in a way that works best for them.”

 

BALANCE delivers much of its content through videos featuring children with ASD, their families, healthcare providers and researchers. The program is now regularly used in the IWK’s Day Surgery, and has recently been expanded to the IWK’s Medical, Surgical and Neurosciences Unit (MSNU) and Pediatric Medical Unit (PMU). Modifications will also allow implementation in other areas such as emergency rooms, ambulatory and dentistry clinics.

For more information visit www.balanceforautism.com

Ben Maycock works in communications at IWK Health Centre.