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MI: Drs using sensory rooms to calm autistic kids for vaccinations

July 18, 2023, Second Wave MI: Corner Health sensory room makes accessing healthcare easier for people living with autism

“Access to sensory rooms in a doctor’s office will ensure that every autistic child is receiving the care they need in a space that is comfortable and minimizes stress." — Dr. Colleen Allen, AAOM

For people on the autism spectrum, simple healthcare tasks such as routine vaccinations or annual check-ups can be a challenge.

“The sounds and bright lights of a doctor's office coupled with potential communication challenges may make it difficult for an individual on the autism spectrum —and accommodations for those who live with sensory issues commonly associated with ASD rarely exist,” says Dr. Colleen Allen, president and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM). “Their response to sensory stimuli can include both over-responsiveness and under-responsiveness depending on the stimuli and the individual.”

Sensory rooms in doctor’s offices can improve the experience of vaccinations and wellness checks for ASD families. By providing a sense of calm and comfort, the patient is less likely to feel overwhelmed by the sounds of other patients, fluorescent lights, and other sensory stimuli. Sensory rooms allow children with ASD to self-regulate their behaviors and make it easier for them to engage with healthcare staff throughout the visit with as little stress as possible….

Sensory rooms are designed with mood lighting that covers or dims lights or uses lava lamps as well as sensory toys — like stress balls, stuffed animals, or Silly Putty — soft, soothing music, and noise-canceling headphones.

Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan is a notable example of how offering a sensory room is actually a necessity for ASD families. Its sensory room, which was designed and funded in conjunction with AAoM, offers a comfortable soft bean bag chair, noise-canceling headphones, dim lighting, and sensory kits filled with sensory toys and other items. The Corner Health team is confident that the room will make it easier for families living with autism to prioritize their children’s vaccines and health checkups with less stress…. In addition to Corner Health, AAoM is also collaborating with Detroit Health Department, Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services, Ingham County Health Department, and others to make sure families across the state have access to the safest, most accommodating healthcare facilities possible….

In addition to overstimulation, individuals with autism run into other challenges that create barriers to getting vaccinations and health checks. A 2016 study found that lack of training about these challenges among health professionals has made doctor's visits more complicated for people living with ASD. The study also found that ASD families feel health professionals don’t understand that hypo- and hyper-sensitivity come alongside autism….

A trusted resource for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families AAoM understands that misinformation about vaccine safety and effectiveness has spread rapidly over the past several years while the need to ensure that families stay healthy has never been more important. The misinformation that caused some Michiganders to avoid COVID vaccination has spilled over into other vaccinations, leaving rates of children without other routine childhood vaccination higher than before the pandemic. AAoM is committed to providing the most current, verifiable, and validated facts to help parents make vaccination and other healthcare choices for their families and loved ones.

“Thousands of Michigan families view AAoM as a trusted partner and source of information to help alleviate their concerns and voices in the fight for disability rights,” Allen says. “AAoM has built a world-class team of experienced advocates and professionals to support people on the autism spectrum, identify pathways, and bring light to the challenges they face.” AAoM helps raise expectations and expand opportunities for Michigan’s estimated one in 36 children diagnosed as living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). AAOM works to develop solutions that help people in Michigan access basic care, navigate their civil and legal rights, and explore appropriate education and employment opportunities. Michiganders in the autism community of all ages who need help accessing information and resources while navigating an often-fractured system of support, the Autism Alliance of Michigan stands by ready to help. To learn more,

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