Improving our care for people on the autism spectrum

For people on the autism spectrum, coming into hospital can be very confronting. With funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, Austin Health is developing ways to improve our care for people on the autism spectrum.

"Noisy wards, disrupted routines, invasive procedures; it's no wonder it can be a challenging experience for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families," says Project Lead, Sarah Hall.

"In particular, we have been working together with people with ASD, their families, and clinicians to come up with a care planning process tailored to their needs," she says.

Care planning involves finding out about the communication, sensory, environmental and behaviour needs of each patient with ASD, and using this information to plan how we can best support them during their stay.

It promotes clinicians working together from across multiple disciplines, and involving people with ASD and their families as active participants in their care. In particular, the social work department are playing an important role supporting staff with the care planning process on the adult wards.

Austin Health is now trialing the new Autism Spectrum Care Plan on the Paediatric ward (2 West) and adult surgical wards (8 North, East and West).

Sarah adds that the trial has already had a positive impact for patients.

"A young man's family identified to us that he was on the autism spectrum. Through the development of his care plan, we found out that he had a special interest in trains.

"He had a bed overlooking the train station, and clinical staff were able to incorporate trains into conversations with him, which he really enjoyed.

"By simply identifying his interests and strengths, we were able to tailor care to suit him.

"Sometimes it's really simple solutions that makes a big difference," says Sarah.

The project team are also developing a suite of training programs and other resources to support staff to provide tailored and effective care for people with ASD during their hospital stay.

"We hope that this project will help to improve the hospital experience for people on the autism spectrum at Austin Health," says Sarah.

If you want to know more, you can contact the Allied Health project team:

Dr. Sarah Hall (Project Lead)

Dr. Joanne Wrench (Manager, Psychology)

Deb Leahy (Manager, Social Work)