At the SPS conference in Denver last May, one of the vignettes discussed during the Stump the Experts Panel centered around a 23 year-old patient diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. During the panel, we talked about the very real concerns surrounding the treatment of adult patients in pediatric facilities. For Child Life Specialists supporting sedation teams in free-standing children’s hospitals, even though we may occasionally find ourselves caring for patients into their young-adulthood, there is a set point where patients will ultimately transition to adult care in a separate healthcare system. However, those specialists who work in healthcare organizations which also treat adults may be involved in caring for older patients much more frequently, and the age of the patient may also extend far beyond the one mentioned in our scenario.
As more patients with Autism Spectrum and other sensory processing disorders age out of the pediatric system, Child Life Specialists may find themselves consulted to support patients on the “adult side” of their hospitals. Is it within the scope of a Child Life Specialist’s role to support an adult patient with diagnosed developmental delays?
In an attempt to initiate a dialogue, the Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP) highlighted this issue as a part of their “Point/Counterpoint” column in the Winter 2018 issue of the ACLP Bulletin. Each Specialist offered thoughtful and well-reasoned arguments, considering the ethical, financial and logistical ramifications of their respective positions. Both agreed that the psychosocial, emotional and educational needs of this patient population were vitally important. They simply differed on how these needs should be met. As there does not appear to be any definitive answer, it appears to be up to the individual specialist to help his/her healthcare organization interpret the scope of care. Before deciding how you (and your program) should respond to this healthcare need, we would suggest reading this thought-provoking essay.