Skip to main content

Children's National Creates Team Dedicated to Making Hospital More Autism-friendly

The newly formed Autism Behavioral Communications (ABC) Support team creates customized plans for patients in the hospital who have autism and need to receive medical care

boy holding lights

Washington, DC - Children’s National Health System today announced the creation of an integrated team that is dedicated to working with patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their families, and their medical care teams to create customized plans to address each child’s unique needs. About one in 68 children in the United States has an ASD. Children with ASD often have disabilities that can create barriers to successfully receiving needed medical care for health issues that arise.

“We have built a team of experts dedicated to making sure that every child with autism who enters our doors gets the attention, respect, and special care they need to have the most positive experience possible,” says Kurt Newman, MD, President and CEO of Children’s National. “We are very proud to be an autism-friendly hospital.”

Eileen Walters, BSN, RN, CPN, program manager, is a registered nurse by training and leads the ABC Support team. She saw a need to create this resource for families when she was a nurse navigator. A patient with autism in her care had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and was having trouble receiving and adapting to her medical treatment plan. At the same time, the patient’s medical team was having trouble finding the best possible way to deliver care without causing her a traumatic experience.

“I saw the need and wanted to immediately do something to help this patient, as well as future patients with autism and/or communication challenges that face similar difficulties,” Walters notes. “The ABC Support team uses information about the specific needs of each child and pairs that with what the child is going to experience during their medical care here [at Children’s National]. By developing plans for each child and coordinating between families and their medical care teams, we create safe passages in how we handle their care.”

The team is staffed by Walters; Kathleen Atmore, PsyD, an autism specialist and developmental neuropsychologist; and Chayna Humphrey, program assistant.

The ABC Support team is one of the only formal programs available at children’s hospitals across the country that offers dedicated support to patients with autism and behavioral or communication challenges who are already being treated for various medical conditions.  

The team partners with medical providers when working with patients who have autism to help physicians and nurses understand the child’s needs and work around some of the challenges the providers may face when administering care. The primary goal of this partnership is to help educate medical providers across the different departments and clinics at Children’s National so they can develop a deeper understanding of the unique needs of children with autism.

“People with autism typically think visually, not verbally, and they often need help understanding information and preparing for new situations,” says Dr. Atmore. “If you have a patient who is deaf, you would have a person come in and interpret. It’s similar if you have a patient with autism; you need to have the ability to translate the medical situation into something that makes sense for them.”

These services are currently available for patients admitted in the hospital at the Children’s Sheikh Zayed campus, as well as at the Children’s Montgomery County Regional Outpatient Center.

“Our goals are to help patients make sense of their treatment plan and help their medical care teams administer care in the most successful way possible,” Walters explains. “We hope that when people think of Children’s National, they think of an autism-friendly environment and a place where all children can go to receive the best and safest care.”

Contact: Lauren Lytle 202-476-4500

Media Contacts