Autism Friendly Initiative at Boston Medical Center

December 12, 2018

At Boston Medical Center, we recognize that healthcare encounters can be particularly challenging for our patients on the autism spectrum, and therefore launched our Autism Friendly Initiative. Patients with ASD have various sensory and communication needs, which can make the fast-paced and often over-stimulating hospital environment particularly challenging.

In order better understand the specific challenges patients with autism face, we have involved a range of stakeholders, including parents through our Parent Leadership in Autism Network, personnel from across the hospital in the form of a hospital-wide steering committee, and established a quality improvement board to provide ongoing methodological advice and guidance. In addition to our broad stakeholder involvement, our research efforts have included patient data analysis and an ethnographic study where we followed patients to their appointments to understand the experience in real time.

Based on our efforts to understand the challenges faced by our patients, we are moving forward with a multi-pronged intervention based on the social ecological model. To better accommodate the spectrum of individualized needs of our patients, we are testing out our Autism Support Checklist (ASC), a tool that collects information on the communication, sensory, and safety needs of our patients. For those patients who benefit from social stories, we are in the process of developing an app that allows patients to preview the experience of coming in for an appointment. In partnership with Child Life, we have developed and are testing a Sensory Toolbox that contains items like sunglasses, a weighted lap pad, and stress balls for use during clinical encounters. More broadly, we have a robust training program through which we are reaching students and staff throughout the Boston Medical Center community. Moving forward, we are excited to partner with other institutions to continue to learn from one another, and to share best practices.