Why a little preparation is important for children with autism

Visits to the emergency department can be stressful for everyone involved, especially for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Planning for visits can help alleviate stress and avoid potentially problematic situations.

Before leaving for the emergency department

  • Call ahead.
    • Let the staff know you are on the way.
    • Ask about potential wait times.
    • Share any issues that may arise for your child, so the staff can prepare accordingly.
    • Ask if there is a coping plan in your child’s medical record. (Note: This is specific to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta)
      • If not, at the end of the visit, ask to develop a coping plan.
  • Gather preferred items, activities and snacks.
    • Bring things you know your child likes and finds comforting.
    • Make sure you have enough distractions and snacks.
    • Pack a charger for electronics.

When you arrive

  • Immediately notify the staff. They should be expecting you if you called ahead.
  • Find a quiet area to wait in.
  • Let your child play with her preferred items.
    • Use strategies you know will keep your child calm.
    • Praise your child for good behavior while waiting.
  • Give relevant information about your child to the staff. You will likely work with multiple staff members during your visit. Explain all information to each person you work with.
    • Describe how your child communicates.
    • Provide important information the staff needs to know. For example, if certain items commonly seen in the hospital setting, such as needles, have resulted in problem behavior in the past, ask that the items be removed.
  • Assist the staff in making your child comfortable.

Remember and apply lessons learned from previous visits

  • Use information from prior hospital visits to plan for future visits.
    • Was there problem behavior related to certain situations or procedures?
      • Did problem behavior related to drawing blood, shots, sounds, materials or the number of staff occur? If so, relate this information to the staff. Make sure they’re aware of potential problem behavior, especially aggression.
    • Provide the staff with tips on how to avoid or alleviate stress in these situations.

Emergencies are just that and cannot always be avoided, but being as prepared as possible and anticipating your child’s needs will make the experience better for everyone.


We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of these articles may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.