S.T.A.R. Program (Sensory, Tactile, Auditory Rockstars)

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Giving blood is an uneasy experience for many people. But for those with autism and other special needs, this simple procedure can be outright terrifying.

Sean Sikora, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome, was so distressed when he came for bloodwork as part of his treatment for kidney disease in the past, physicians and nurses had to sedate and safely immobilize him.

But not anymore.

We developed a new program that provides customized treatment plans for patients with special needs, which allows caregivers to learn about the patient’s triggers, how to keep them calm, and deescalate issues before they can arise.

The program — called S.T.A.R. — has been so successful that AdventHealth is now beginning to expand the initiative and make training available for all AdventHealth clinicians working with pediatric patients

Hospitals can be scary, especially for our patients who can’t communicate how they feel or understand what is happening around them. We are dedicated to providing compassionate care for all our patients, and our S.T.A.R. program has made a life-changing difference for many of them and their families

The program is built on specialized training for nurses, child life specialists, social workers, clinicians, and security team members. Through this training, providers learn the importance of having a standardized treatment protocol that is practiced by the entire care team.

The program has helped patients with special needs receive routine preventive care more easily, thereby improving the ability to manage chronic diseases and diagnose new conditions more quickly. Over 200 of our team members have participated in simulation training, coaching and education on the different resources available to meet the unique needs of our S.T.A. R. patients throughout the hospital.

In Sean’s case, the simple act of being touched triggered panic and aggressive behavior. But now there’s a formulated routine with Sean for each of his visits — he knows he will watch “Tom and Jerry,” have numbing cream applied to his hand to ease the discomfort, and Child Life Specialists will be by his side.

Jenn Sikora, Sean’s mother, said that prior to the S.T.A.R program, Sean had to be held down during procedures, a difficult situation for her to witness. “Now, he is happy to come to the hospital, and talks about the people and the procedure. He looks forward to coming in. I tell everyone I know because this has made a such a positive difference in our lives.”

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