Shots and blood draws are parts of good medical care. But for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), those aspects of care can be challenging.
"Anything with a needle can be a real stumbling block for families," says Ellen Hanson, PhD, a researcher in the Genetics and Developmental Medicine divisions at Boston Children's. "It's completely out of the routine, and children may have had a bad experience in the past or general anxiety about going to the doctor that make it really difficult."
Recognizing the lack of guidance in the literature about making blood draws easier for children with ASDs, Dr. Hanson and her colleagues created a blood draw intervention program —essentially, an instructional kit and method for helping parents and doctors prepare children for blood draws and make the actual event as painless as possible. The program is based on the "social story" concept developed and refined by renowned special education specialist Carol Gray.
Dr. Hanson and her colleagues recently tested the method and a prototype kit—consisting of instructions, an illustrated social story about having blood drawn and a packet of practice materials (e.g., tourniquet, syringe, rubber glove, band-aids)—in a sample of patients already taking part in one of her genetic studies of the root causes of ASDs.
The program's success in the tests was such that Dr. Hanson and her colleagues worked with Gray, the hospital's Technology Innovation and Development Office and Bee Visual LLC (a company specializing in educational products for children with developmental delays) to turn the prototype kit into a commercial one suitable for wider use.
Dr. Hanson thinks this kind of program could be useful for any child—autistic or not—who experiences anxiety about going to the doctor and getting shots or having blood drawn. "We think this kind of tool could be useful for nearly any procedure that a child might have done," she says.