Taking care of a sick child can be challenging, but it can be especially difficult if the child doesn’t speak. Kat Zagel, a pediatric emergency department physician assistant with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, says health experts are using nonverbal methods to communicate with children when they come to the emergency department. “A nonverbal child can be anything from age related to medically fragile. Being developmentally delayed, being autistic, being physically incapable of communicating due to physiological problems.”
Whether the child is too young to speak or has trouble communicating, health experts at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida work to understand and interact with the child. “If you as a provider can pick up on those cues and those things that the child is telling you nonverbally it helps you better to communicate back to them verbally and nonverbally.”
Studies show only seven percent of communication is verbal, which is why health experts use body language, eye contact, facial expressions, touch, and even play time to communicate with nonverbal children. “Not all of them can talk to you and they want to be able to talk to you. So as a provider it’s so important to let them express themselves,” said Zagel.
Depending on the child’s age, gender, emotional, and physical health, experts pick the best ways to get the child to communicate on how they feel in order to get them the best treatment. “As an ER provider we don’t have the general knowledge of that patient, every patient is different every day, so we kind of have to figure out that space and mirror that patient is what I like to call it,” said Zagel.
Finding ways to reassure all children they are in good hands can help ease the fear of the emergency department.
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