A psychosocial intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder in the outpatient surgery unit
Visiting the hospital is stressful for all children, especially for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Characteristics of children with ASD make this population particularly vulnerable to stress in the hospital. Typical psychosocial interventions for hospitalized children are not always effective for children with ASD. The purpose of this study was to test the effectiveness of a psychosocial intervention program aimed at minimizing the stress experienced by and the incidence of challenging behaviors exhibited by patients with ASD, and thereby minimizing the stress of their parents and perioperative nurses who directly care for these patients in the outpatient surgery unit. There were 48 patient participants and 47 parent/legal guardian participants in the comparison and intervention groups. There were 58 perioperative nurses who participated in both the comparison and intervention groups. ANCOVA models were estimated to test the fidelity and effectiveness of the intervention protocol. Ordinary least squares regression analyses were used to test the effectiveness of the intervention program using four moderators. Results from these analyses indicated that the intervention program was effective at lowering the stress levels for (1) parents of children ages 2–5 years old, (2) patients (and the parents of children) with lower levels of challenging behavior reported on a daily basis, (3) patients (and the parents of patients) who were verbal, and (4) patients ages 6–12 years old. Promising results were found when analyzing the amount of challenging behaviors exhibited by the patients, specifically for the preoperative and post-operative discharge nursing groups. The intervention was also effective at lowering operating room nurses’ stress level when caring for patients and their parents who reported lower parenting stress on a daily basis. The successful implementation and evaluation of this pilot study brings the healthcare community one step closer to finding a way to help all children with ASD and their parents, as well as the medical staff who care for them.