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Raising Awareness and Supporting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Healthcare Settings

The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network funded by CDC estimated that about 1 in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). (1) Autism Acceptance Month observes the rise in individuals diagnosed with ASD and the impact ASD has on a family. The month of April also highlights an opportunity to celebrate those living with ASD and their amazing and unique qualities! At Hearts Connected, we are committed to fostering understanding and acceptance of autism so that every individual living with autism has the opportunity to excel and reach their full potential.

Many may not know that a significant number of children with autism spectrum disorder also have at least one accompanying medical or psychiatric condition. To name a few, here are some examples of co-occuring conditions that might be diagnosed in autistic children:

  • Up to 1/3 of people with autism are also diagnosed with epilepsy

  • GI disorders are almost 8 times more likely to occur among children with autism

  • Almost 20% of individuals with Down Syndrome are also diagnosed with autism. (2)

These statistics demonstrate the importance of educating health care professionals about ASD in order to increase acceptance and implementation of care practices that support the unique needs of children with ASD during a medical experience.

It is not uncommon for children to become fearful or anxious in a healthcare environment or during a medical procedure. With autism though, many of the behavioral and emotional responses health care professionals see are the child's efforts to manage a confusing and overwhelming experience.

“Every child is born with a toolbox of emotional and functional tools they will need to tackle life. Some tools they will know how to use naturally, and others will require instruction. But kids diagnosed with autism may be missing some tools, or have different tools in their toolboxes, or just need intensely focused and repetitive instruction to be able to use some of their tools” (3).

Child life specialists are trained clinicians in supporting children across various spectrums of development, behaviors, and mental health disorders. For children with autism, child life specialists focus on advocating for their specific coping needs, educating staff on ASD and psychosocially supportive interventions, as well as facilitating opportunities for an increased sense of control and decreased sensory input. Our specific training and awareness of the diverse needs of children, with or without autism, in the healthcare environment allow us to create the developmentally appropriate tools needed for a child to cope successfully in various difficult situations!

If your child or someone you know would benefit from child life services in order to create and facilitate a developmentally appropriate care plan for an experience in a medical setting, schedule a phone call with us to learn more about our expertise in supporting children with ASD.


  1. Autism acceptance month. (2021, April 8).

  2. Medical conditions associated with autism. Autism Speaks. (n.d.).

  3. A parent's perspective on handling meltdowns. Autism Society of NC. (2021, April 12).


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