Autism and hospital visits, how to prepare for success

It’s never fun, especially when it is an emergency and you haven’t had time to prepare.  I recently had to spend a few nights in the emergency department with my son. The first night was out of town, in a small town with a small hospital, no paediatrician but plenty of amazing care. There were also no beds available which meant that I had to spend the whole night sitting on a chair holding my son.  Apparently it wasn’t as bad as it felt because the next morning someone complimented me on how great I looked!

The following evening my son was able to fly back home and we went straight from the airport to the emergency room of our brand new Montreal Children’s Hospital that had a bed for him and a slightly more comfortable chair for me. For my son, who had never been hospitalized before, the worst part wasn’t the pain, the physical limitations imposed by his condition, the strangers poking and prodding, nor even the needles he hated so much; it was having to sleep at the hospital. He was okay with being at the hospital during the day, but having to spend the night there was another issue altogether. He cried more over that than about anything else and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t ask for more medication to help with that kind of pain. He missed home, missed his brother, his stuffed animals and his dad.


For my part, I felt completely unprepared and noticed how different my experience at the hospital was compared to the last time I had been there with my older son for a planned procedure. When my kids have planned visits to the hospital they always run smoothly,  even if we have to spend hours there. The secret to those visits’ successes is preparation.

When you have a child with autism, taking them to the hospital often makes you, the parent, nervous and not just about the medical procedures. You are nervous about how your child will handle being in hospital; strange place, strangers touching him, the noises, the BRIGHT lights, staff’s reaction to your child’s unusual behaviour and on and on.

The following tips can help parents prepare themselves and their child for the hospital visit and help them support hospital staff so that hospital visits can be a success.

Preparing yourself includes:

  • having the hospital card made before your appointment
  • be sure of where you are going and have all the documents needed
  • arrive early for the appointment
  • pack entertainment, snacks and even a meal for your child
  • remember your sense of humour

Preparing your child includes things like:

  • if possible, visit the hospital between appointments just to walk around
  • use toys for role-playing and show your child what to expect; hospital beds, drip etc
  • social stories


Supporting the staff:

  • be ready to fill in the blanks when the staff don’t understand
  • come up with alternatives for doing a procedure
  • depending on your child’s needs, consider having a summary about them that you can share with medical staff.

It’s never fun to go to the hospital; not for our kids, us nor the staff and other patients but with preparation, it is possible to make the visits less unpleasant for everyone.

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