Autism experts help ease ER trips
An emergency room physician from Allegheny General Hospital and three university professors are trying to change the way emergency rooms treat patients with autism, as hospitals begin to feel the effects an exploding population of patients with the perplexing disorder.
The noise, bright lights and occasional chaos that characterize emergency rooms allow doctors and nurse to save lives, but Dr. Arvind Venkat wants his colleagues to realize that such an environment can pose special dangers for patients with autism.
Venkat, an emergency room doctor at AGH, joined Indiana University of Pennsylvania professors Joann Migyanka, Jeffrey Fratangeli and Susan Glor-Scheib this year to develop a training manual and DVD to help ER clinicians deal more effectively with autistic patients. The brain disorder affects communication skills, sensory perception and social interaction.
Change can't happen soon enough for Lisa Licata.
Licata, a West End mother of three, said emergency room visits are a trial for her son Dylan, 8.
The boy, who can't speak, is overwhelmed by loud noises, crowds and strangers. So, Licata makes it clear that Dylan must see a single doctor or nurse, rather than the parade of practitioners who typically treat patients in emergency rooms.
“I said long ago, everyone in a hospital should know about autism. An ER is a scary place to any kid, and with these kids, it's just magnified,” she said.
Joann Migyanka taught children with autism for 10 years before she joined the faculty at IUP. She now teaches at the university and consults on autism.
She said professionals in all fields need additional training to deal with individuals with limited communication and social skills.
“That first wave, who were children when we started to see the rise of autism, are becoming adults. They are in the community. They're accessing health care just like any other adult or adolescent,” Migyanka said, adding that people with autism can become combative if restrained or approached briskly.
“First-responders and ER personnel have their protocols, and they are all about getting it done. But you have to approach a person with autism much more slowly, with words they can understand,” she said.
Venkat said such patients “can be a ‘black box': we can't communicate with them, and they can't communicate with us. So we look at what we can do to fix the problem.”
The Bureau of Autism Services of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare assembled the team and paid for the training program. A 2011 survey found families with autistic members have reported problems with medical care.
The training manual and DVD alert practitioners to clues that they may be dealing with autism. They encourage providers to evaluate autistic patients by accessing patient history from care providers, preparing a quiet exam room, minimizing the number of personnel, using the patient's first name, asking simple “yes” or “no” questions, and letting patients see or touch materials that will be placed on their bodies.
Kay Ella Bleecher, president of the Pennsylvania State Emergency Nurses Association, said the group previewed the program at its annual convention in June. She found it a welcome addition for ER workers.
An emergency room nurse practitioner at York Hospital, Bleecher said the association's members report seeing more patients with autism every year.
“They definitely present some special challenges. We're going to do more education on it next year,” Bleecher said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Woman commits suicide in North Braddock police holding cell
- Animal activists targeting Vick at Steelers preseason game
- Pittsburgh poised to settle lawsuits from deadly flash flood in 2011
- Risks don’t get any better as online dating prospers
- North Shore’s Lacock Street to close 3 weeks for construction
- Pittsburgh councilwoman introduces pair of bills to protect animals
- Bettis lab, 4 others receive new name
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing
- 2 Brentwood council members keep positions, council approves third resignation
- Police issue alert about suspicious male in Troy Hill
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters