Rachel Wiik’s 5-year-old daughter Caylin was afraid to visit the doctor. Previous experience had left her feeling scared.
When an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) ordered a CT scan through the Pediatric Sedation Unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida to evaluate her right ear, Rachel sought the help of certified child life specialist Kristin Brown.
Child life specialists (CLS) are child development experts who teach kids about the hospital while helping them and their families cope. They work in the outpatient and inpatient units at Golisano Children’s Hospital.
“Our goal is to make the hospital easier and more comfortable for kids,” Kristin says. “They may not understand what’s going to happen to them in this new environment, which can be scary for them.”
Child life specialists use play to help children relax during their stay in a health care setting.
“Play can teach a patient about their upcoming procedure or a new diagnosis,” Kristin says. “It normalizes the hospital environment by providing distraction during procedures. Play also tells us how well patients understand what is happening and their ability to cope.”
Studies show that children who are prepared for medical procedures have less fear and anxiety. That promotes cooperation during procedures and helps them adjust to future medical experiences.
On the day of the procedure, Kristin met with Rachel and Caylin beforehand. Kristin played with Caylin for about 25 minutes to build rapport with her, then used an iPad to show her and Rachel pictures of a child going through the CT process.
“We’ll walk the child through all steps of the procedure so there are no surprises,” Kristin says. “We try to relate the procedure back to something children are familiar with.”
Kristin told Caylin that getting a CT scan was like having her picture taken by a camera, but a much bigger camera that took pictures of the inside of her head instead of the outside.
“Caylin was scared going into the procedure,” recalls Rachel, who remained with her daughter, along with Kristin, during the scan. “When we got her in the examination room, she began to cry a little. Kristin got on the CT table first, lay down and let the technician move the bed with her on it. After seeing Kristin do that, Caylin got on the table, keeping her eyes on Kristin, listening to what she was explaining as the scanner took her pictures.”
Rachel says her daughter’s health care team from the sedation unit to the radiology unit, and Kristin, of course, were focused on Caylin’s coping and comfort level, which made the experience less stressful.
“Caylin did really well,” Rachel says. “I was relieved because I didn’t know how she was going to act in such a challenging environment. The child life specialist program made a huge difference.”