Autism Awareness Day

By Humber River Hospital

In 2007, the United Nations declared April 2 to be World Autism Day. The intent was to focus the world’s attention on a pervasive developmental disorder that affects millions of people and families around the globe. Much of the world, in fact, observes all of April as Autism Awareness Month, promoting awareness and inclusion, and working to ensure that everyone with Autism Spectrum Disorder has access to opportunity and a high quality of life. At Humber River Hospital, children and adults with autism receive the best care possible from an interdisciplinary team committed to increasing their comfort, decreasing their stress and anxiety, and ensuring their safety. 

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms.”

-UN Secretary-General António Guterres

A growing challenge faced by health providers is caring for the increasing number of people, particularly children, with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It affects brain development, which can cause verbal and/or other communication problems, difficulty with social interactions, and often leads to a variety of mental and physical healthcare needs. According to the latest research, one in 68 children is being identified with ASD. That represents a 30% increase in previously recorded rates.

“No question, we are seeing more and more kids with autism,” says Nathalie Gelinas, Pediatric Program Manager at Humber River Hospital, and Manager of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “I don’t know why that is. I just know that it is our job to identify their specific needs, and work as a team to meet those needs in the very best way possible.”

‘Team’ is a word that is often heard in healthcare these days. It is certainly a word you hear often while talking to people at Humber River Hospital about how to meet the needs of children with autism. These children benefit from an interdisciplinary health care team that consists of physicians, nurses, paediatricians, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists – to name just a few. They work together, bringing their skills and perspectives to bear in tackling the myriad mental, physical and emotional challenges faced by their young patients.

“What you always have to remember is that when it comes to autism, one size definitely does not fit all,” says Lindsay Porter-Hall, a speech-language pathologist at Humber who works with many children on the autism spectrum. “We have a saying in the autism community that goes: if you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism. They all have different needs.”

Alexandra Christofides is a Certified Child Life Specialist Lead who runs Humber’s Child Life Program. One of her most stories about an autistic patient is about a 15-year old girl called Cherry, who had to travel four hours to the hospital with her mother for eye surgery. Cherry lacks verbal communication, and arrived at the hospital anxious and stressed.

“Our team put together an amazing plan to get her through the day. Several team members worked with her to prepare her for the surgery. We also arranged to have her practice putting on the anaesthetic mask with Pepper, Humber’s humanoid robot. Her mother was allowed to go with her into the OR [operating room]. The most brilliant touch, however, was arranging to have a service dog with her the whole time. The dog kept her calm, gave comfort in the way that only dogs can, and as a result the surgery was a success and she is back home. That is what good caring teams can do for people with autism.”