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The Privilege of Caring for Children With Special Needs

As nurses, the diversity of the population we serve is vast. We have the privilege of caring for a wide variety of patient needs.

This may include the specific challenges of caring for a child with special needs.

For example, autism is a growing concern and the spectrum of challenges for children with this condition is also vast.

I have found that the challenge in this scenario is the fact that these children are often accompanied by a caregiver who often requires most of our focus.  Without realizing it, we may take our attention off the child, in order to best address the concerns of the caregiver.

The challenge is to listen to the caregiver while focusing the visit on the child. By doing this, we have the joy of getting to know these children on an individual basis. I will never forget the first little boy who opened my eyes to this fact.

A few years ago, a little boy came to the clinic with his caregiver. It didn't take long to realize that although he was 8 years old, communication was a challenge to him. As his caregiver spoke to me, I turned my chair to listen to her.

Without realizing it, I focused my energies completely on communicating with the caregiver. Before long, I noticed my patient was agitated, and he began to move around the clinic restlessly.

From that moment of realization, I turned my attention solely to the little boy. I looked him in the eye and addressed him by name. I gave him my stethoscope to hold and showed him the tools I would use to exam him.

By addressing him specifically, he seemed to calm down. I was able to persuade him to sit down on the bench to be examined, and for the first time I saw a look of trust in his eyes. It seemed that after I looked into his eyes and addressed him by name, he was at ease.

He allowed me to examine him, and then stood up to head towards the door. I confirmed to the caregiver that he had an upper respiratory viruses. We discussed the treatment plan, and she then grabbed his hand and left.

As I watched him walk away, I had a renewed sense of the privilege of caring for him. Since that initial visit, I have had the joy of caring for the little boy many times over the years. His caregiver brings him periodically for the professional opinion on his ailment.

The difference is that unlike that first visit, he now comes to the clinic with a calm and peaceful attitude. He seems at ease and always looks me in the eye with an apparent trust. I try to make a point to address him specifically. Because of this, we have developed a relationship.

Although we are not able to communicate specifically, I have come to see the value of focusing each visit on him, and making sure I give him the eye contact he needs, even as I ask his caregiver for his symptoms.

Although my experience with this little boy may seem obvious, it was a good reminder for me that children deserve our individual focus, whether they can communicate with us or not. The privilege of learning their individuality and developing the clinician patient relationship can only be established through this trust.

Once again, this is the honor we have as nurses, developing trust within our communities through the diversity of each patient's uniqueness!

Kristene Diggins is a nurse from Waxhaw, NC.

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