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'Sensory cart' helps soothe young patients with autism spectrum disorder

Children with ASD 20 percent more likely to be hospitalized

HOUSTON – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

Children with ASD are 20 percent more likely to be hospitalized for injuries than typically developing children. For a child with ASD, a hospital visit can provoke challenging behaviors. But now, hospitals are using a cart full of tricks to calm patients with ASD and allow them to get the care they need.

Anna loves to dance. She also has autism. Children like Anna have a hard time communicating their needs to others.

“She knew I wasn’t understanding, so I’d see the pain in her eyes, because she’s literally trying to tell her mommy something, and she knows her mommy doesn’t understand,” Anna's mother, Angelique Hall, said.

When it comes to hospital visits, it can be challenging for both parents and health care providers. It may be difficult to understand the needs or wants of a patient with ASD, and it may be tough to keep them calm while they are in the hospital.

“For kids on the autism spectrum disorder, with other sensory difficulties, it’s gonna be completely out of their normal day,” emergency room child life specialist Allison Rein said.

To keep kids calm, Rein relies on a cart full of simple tricks called the "sensory cart." The cart is packed with a bubble tube, aromatherapy diffusers and a projector to display relaxing images on the nearest wall. The cart can even pump out tunes to help soothe anxious kids.

Haley Messmore uses the sensory cart for her admitted patients.

“Sensory stimulation is a really important thing in the hospital. When they have lots of unfamiliar settings and noises and people, providing those opportunities where they feel that something is familiar is really important,” Messmore said.

The sensory cart is giving patients with ASD a safe space so they can get the care they need.

The cart is not only for children with ASD. Specialists can use it for any kid going into surgery to calm their nerves. Most children’s hospitals around the country have a sensory cart similar to this that can be requested if it is available.