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Tips for Navigating a Hospital Stay with your Child

Pediatrician Visiting Parents And Child In Hospital Bed

Pediatrician Visiting Parents And Child In Hospital Bed

Many of our kids with special needs have physical conditions that will require surgery or a hospital stay at some point. The prospect of a trip to the hospital is sure to unnerve most parents. Often our feelings are mixed; we are anxious about the surgery or hospital procedures, but anticipate with hope that it will lead to improved health and functionality for our child. Today, we are sharing some tips for how to help you and your child have a smooth visit to the hospital.

Before the Hospital Stay:

  • Assemble your child’s therapists and brainstorm how to best communicate to your child about the upcoming hospital visit. Some options include: role playing, pretend play with dolls, or a trial visit to the hospital.
  • Social stories are a great way to visually explain what will happen in the hospital. A great resource for hospital-based social stories can be found on page 16 of this PDF offered by Autism Speaks. Children with other types of special needs may benefit as well.
  • Regardless of how you communicate with your child, make sure you and your child’s therapists emphasize the positive. Nearly all children pick up on their parents’ emotions, so remain calm and positive. This is especially important to remember during the hospital stay.
  • Ask your child’s doctor or surgeon how your Occupational Therapist can help both before and after surgery or procedures. Are there muscle tone or strengthening exercises that would be helpful?
  • If your child has sensory processing issues, ask your child’s Occupational Therapist to help you and your child get prepared. Hospitals are full of bright lights, beeping machines, and strange-tasting medicines. Prepare some strategies in advance to help your child not become over-stimulated.
  • Request that the hospital provide a Child Life Specialist who is familiar with your child’s special needs.

On the Day of the Hospital Stay:

  • Remember to bring:
    • Routine medications
    • Comfort items
    • PECS or other audio/visual aids normally used
    • Preferred reward items, such as stickers
  • Communicate your child’s diagnosis and special needs to all hospital caregivers. Don’t assume that they already know and that they are specially trained in the area of special needs. Using patience, explain the best ways to communicate and work with your child.
  • If your child will need anesthesia, ask the anesthesiologist and nurses to wait to insert an IV until after your child has received the anesthesia gas, if medically appropriate.
  • Care for yourself, too. Take breaks, get a meal, do some stress-reduction techniques. This will help you remain positive and strong for your child.

After the Hospital Stay

  • Always communicate all recovery restrictions to your child’s therapists.
  • Give your child familiar foods during a recovery at home. This will be comforting.
  • Of course, follow all your doctor’s directions for at-home care and call the doctor’s office if you have questions or concerns.

We would love to hear other great hospital stay tips from our patients’ parents! What has worked for you and your child? Please use the comments section to continue the conversation.


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