Sometimes a visit to the hospital is about more than treating an injury or illness. It’s also about making the patient feel safe, comfortable and secure. When Jennifer Fisher brought her son, Sladen, to Children’s of Alabama for an injury he suffered at school, she knew the emergency room visit would be stressful on him. Sladen has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Jennifer had arrived at Sladen’s school to pick him up when he walked in front of another child on the swing set. “He got hit and then stumbled backwards and got hit again, so the front and back of his ear lobe got cut very bad,” she said. “There was so much blood that at first we didn’t even know where it was coming from.”
It was obvious Sladen needed stitches and Jennifer soon realized she would have to manage this family emergency alone, as husband, Brent, was out of town. “It was late in the day, so Sladen was already in withdrawal, and anything sticky on him sends him into overload, and he was covered in blood,” she said. “So having to add the hospital visit to all of that was a big deal for us.”
When mother and son arrived at Children’s, Jennifer explained the situation to the front desk. To her surprise, the Emergency Department staff was more than prepared to help with its Sensory Pathway initiative, which helps reduce stress in children with sensory sensitivities. A Child Life Specialist greeted Sladen and supported him through the visit.
“She was a godsend,” Jennifer said. “For Sladen, a new environment is overwhelming. But out comes Child Life Specialist Shelby Smith, who immediately knew how to talk with Sladen to calm him down. She brought him a toy to play with and he warmed up to her within a few minutes and was so comfortable. It supported me, but it was such a calming effect on Sladen.”
Shelby stayed with Sladen throughout the entire visit, explaining to him every detail of his treatment and care. “She was able to spin everything in a way that kept him calm and wasn’t scary for him,” Jennifer said. “It was incredible. She also had an iPad to engage him the entire time and so he literally didn’t move through the whole process.”
While that is just part of the job for Shelby and the other Child Life Specialists at Children’s, it made a profound impact on Sladen. A few weeks later at school, Sladen had to do a report on a hero. “I explained to him what a hero is and that it could be a super hero or a doctor or fire fighter or whoever,” Jennifer said. “He said he wanted to do it on the lady who gave him the toy at Children’s. In his mind, she was a hero—someone who went above and beyond to help him. And she really was our hero. She made what could have been an incredibly difficult situation so amazing.”