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Emergency Department sensory space adds to system transformations for those with autism

Emergency Department sensory space adds to system transformations for those with autism
When individuals with sensory challenges enter a room for medical treatment, they need a calm, inviting setting. The typical exam room with bright lights, flashing computer screens and within-reach medical equipment can be too stimulating for children and adults with autism. It can also provide diagnosis challenges for the provider.

When the child or adult with sensory issues is in an emergency state, it is even more complicated. Just ask Justin Hoskins, MD, who treats children in Carle Foundation Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED).

“The situation can be overstimulating for the patient. There is a question of whether a child is fussy because of the environment they are in or is there something physically wrong,” he said.

Karen Eisenmenger, MD, understands the difficulties all too well. Her son, Joe, was about 14 months old when all of his words went away due to severe autism. “We had our share of ED (Emergency Department) visits. When you are in emergency, it is not a quick visit,” she said.

Eisenmenger met with Carle Child Life Specialist Sara Burton, MS, CCLS, and a representative of the Champaign Urbana Autism Network to discuss how to improve the setting in the Emergency Department and the result is the Joe Eisenmenger Sensory Room, the latest in a series of spaces throughout the Carle Health system transformed with features like rocking furniture, dimmable lighting and interactive wall art for anyone with sensory needs.

Carle Health Center for Philanthropy began fundraising in September 2020 to fully fund a sensory friendly initiative for the health system. Proceeds from the annual employee giving campaign, iGive, and Carle Golf Open helped create materials to educate staff, transform the environment and provide helpful patient distractions – all for the purpose of assisting those with autism navigate the healthcare environment. The locations with sensory spaces include:
  • Carle BroMenn Medical Center—sensory gym, completed in partnership with Marcfirst, November 2020.
  • Carle Therapy Services, North Annex—Paulie Palermo Sensory Gym, completed May 2021
  • Carle Champaign on Curtis—sensory exam room, completed December 2021.
  • Carle Olney Primary Care Center—sensory exam room, completed January 2022.
  • Carle Richland Memorial Hospital, Rehab Services—sensory space, completed January 2022.
  • Carle Foundation Hospital, Emergency Department—Joe Eisenmenger Sensory Room, completed July 2022.

“Our sensory initiative centered around providing a better and less stressful experience for our patients with autism and their families. Our donors, through their generous gifts, have transformed the healthcare environment for those who depend on us for care,” Beth Katsinas, vice president, Carle Health Center for Philanthropy, said.

Inside the Emergency Department sensory room there are few distractions for anyone with autism, but there is a calming bubble machine on the wall. Not only did the Eisenmenger family help make the Joe Eisenmenger Sensory Room at the Emergency Department possible, but Dr. Eisenmenger went so far as to get permission from American author Eric Carle to use art from his 1990 picture book, “The Very Quiet Cricket” on a plaque for one of the walls near the room. The book holds a special place in her heart because it tells of the “very quiet cricket” and reminds her of her son who since age 3 uses a special device to speak.

As her son grew older, his life with autism grew more complicated and he currently lives in a residential facility for children with complex needs.

“JoeJoe would be amazed to see the room, and I’m sure one day he will,” Dr. Eisenmenger said.

Categories: Redefining Healthcare, Community

Tags: Bloomington-Normal, Carle Center for Philanthropy, , Champaign-Urbana, Giving, Olney