When a child is ill, even with a minor illness such as the common cold, a parent faces new challenges. When a child with special needs gets an illness, the challenges are much more daunting.
The stress of an illness often exacerbates autism symptoms in children. In addition, many children with special needs are difficult to diagnose and treat because of:
- Communication problems
- Sensory issues
Fear of strangers and/or needles
Health care workers inexperience dealing with children who have special needs
Here are some tips I learned to help a sick child who has special needs.
Tell Your Special Needs Child What You Are Doing
If you need to bring your child to the doctor or hospital, explain to your child where you are going and why. Tell them what you think will happen when you get to the doctor’s office or hospital.
For example, if you have a child with asthma, you might explain what you expect to happen like this:
The doctor will listen to your lungs with a device called a stethoscope. This doesn’t hurt at all. If she wants more information, she might order an x-ray of your lungs. An x-ray is a picture of what is going on inside your body. The x-ray won’t hurt, but you may need to stay still for a few seconds…
Be ready to wait at the hospital or doctor’s office
If your child is verbal and old enough ask her what toys or games she wants to bring to the doctor’s office or hospital. In addition, pack drinks and snacks that your child likes, but wait until you check with a health care worker before offering them to your child.
Inform all medical staff of your child’s special needs
When you arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital, make sure the person at check in knows your child has special needs. Explain how your child’s problems may become exacerbated by a long wait.
If you have time, make a few “to whom it may concern” notes or cards. Put your child’s name, diagnosis, main manifestations of his special needs, any extra-sensitivity to touch etc. on the cards. Give a card to the receptionist and anyone else involved in your child’s care.
If the check in person can’t help with the waiting time, ask if there is a quieter area where you can wait.
Also, consider using The Hospital Communication Book. This book helps patients with special needs communicate with their caregivers and it can be downloaded for free.
What to do if your child with special needs is admitted to the hospital
Hospitalization also brings another challenge – noise. On a ward, there is noise from multiple conversations as well as beeping and other noises from medical machines. Consider bringing in an iPod with headphones or earplugs for your child.
For children with sensory issues, the bright lights in hospitals are disturbing. Bring in sunglasses or eye masks to reduce or block out the light.
If your child’s diet is limited, bring in foods he will eat – just make sure you get the doctor’s approval first. If you aren’t able to stay with your child, ask the nurses where to leave your child’s food and to make sure the food is brought to your child at mealtimes.
Some children with special needs have a skewed perception of pain. If this applies to your child, make sure the doctors and nurses assessing and treating him know this.
Many children are afraid of needles and are unhappy if they need blood drawn. If this happens, ask that the area be numbed first and the smallest needle used. You want to make the situation as painless as possible so your child is not afraid if he needs blood drawn again.
As mentioned above, a good thing to prepare before an unexpected hospital or doctor’s visit, is a note that explains your child’s diagnosis and symptoms as well as what types of action may trigger a meltdown. Alternatively download the My Care Passport, which is suitable for doctor and hospital visits as well as other care situations.