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New ER exam rooms geared to make kids with special needs feel at home

The sensory-friendly rooms at Methodist Children's Hospital offer headphones, weighted blankets, fidget spinners and even the option to skip wearing a hospital gown.

SAN ANTONIO — Going to the emergency room is usually an unpreferred activity for anyone – and probably more so for someone with special needs and their parent or guardian. That's why Methodist Children's Hospital decided to revamp the experience completely.

Their goal: A sensory-friendly ER that results in a safer hospital visit for what they refer to as "an often overlooked patient population." It's the first sensory-friendly pediatric ER in the South Texas region.

To reduce the sensory overload of new sights, smells and sounds, the hospital took a new approach by making these changes:

  • providing a sensory-trained certified Child Life Specialist, in conjunction with a sensory-trained pediatric ER nurse at bedside
  • painting rooms in a pale blue, calming color throughout the ER
  • adding dimmer lighting to lower the brightness to the child’s comfort level
  • shifting the monitors to ring at the nurse’s station instead of the patient's room
  • supplying softer gowns, or allowing the child to keep their own clothing on

In addition, the hospital staff is offering a menu of more than 20 sensory-friendly items that are customizable for each patient’s specific sensory need such as:

  • soothing projectors that project different patterns of light on the ceiling
  • noise-reducing headphones
  • weighted blankets
  • beads
  • sensory circles
  • fidget spinners
  • fiber optic lights

If a parent or guardian does not already know that their child has a sensory need, the hospital’s ER staff is trained to recognize whether a child might benefit from a sensory-friendly room.

“Each child has their own special sensory needs and when these needs are not met, this can create feelings of frustration for all involved,” said certified Child Life Specialist, Charlesy Crocker. “Kids comply and cope better with medical procedures when these needs are taken into account.”

Methodist Children's Hospital said it hopes to expand the program to its freestanding emergency rooms and create sensory-friendly patient rooms throughout the entire hospital in the near future.