Healthy Kids Summer 2022



for Patients on the Autism Spectrum

What’s the best way to provide top care for children? Give them a space where they feel comfortable and safe. At Rady Children’s, that was the goal for Lisa Miller, manager of clinical informatics and central support on the patient care services team, and Kristin Gist, former senior director of Developmental Services, who formed a team to implement a questionnaire for parents to complete prior to medical visits. The Autism Friendly Questionnaire asks parents questions like “What is the best way to communicate with your child?” and “What might cause your child to be anxious and/or agitated?” By knowing what might trigger discomfort (such as lights or loud noises) for a child on the spectrum, providers can create a safe space prior to the child’s arrival. With roughly 20,000 visits from children on the spectrum each year, providers at Rady Children’s have received positive feedback about the questionnaire and are looking into expanding their support for patients and their families even further.


Creating a Lifetime of Health

Rady Children’s adds developmental specialists to the primary care team

CARING FOR A CHILD extends well beyond checking their vitals. Rady Children’s has a unique approach, called HealthySteps, where well-child visits for patients in Southwest Riverside County include screening for a long list of concerns, including mental health. Sarah Nolan, HealthySteps’ program manager, says it “provides tailored support for common and complex concerns that providers often lack time to fully address, such as behavior, sleep, feeding, attachment, parental depression, social determinants of health, and adapting to life with a baby or toddler. HealthySteps allows us to help providers care for the whole family.” The program, which relies on grants, provides universal screening for families with children through age 5. It’s been crucial during the past two years “when families were isolated, children were not in school, and parents and caregivers lacked the support they would’ve had from friends and extended family,” Nolan says. “First- time parents were alone, learning to navigate sleeplessness and caring for their baby without the support of their own parents, which led to a higher risk of postpartum depression.” It’s important for parents to understand that mental health challenges can arise at any age. “In babies and young children, we talk about

mental health in terms of their behavior and social-emotional health,” Nolan says. “This may look like extreme fussiness, inconsolable crying or tantrums, but it can also look like changes in sleeping and eating habits or be reflected in physical symptoms, such as poor weight gain or delayed language development.” It’s also important to know that the mental health of a child and a parent are intertwined. “If a new parent is feeling unusually sad, irritable or worried, or feels like they’re not bonding with their baby or have upsetting thoughts they can’t stop thinking about, it’s time to ask for help,” Nolan says. “A parent may not think to tell the pediatrician of concerns about their own mental health, but this affects their baby. In a HealthySteps office, the specialist can support the provider and the parent.” If parents need support or have concerns, it’s never too soon to ask for help. “If you have concerns about your baby or young child’s development or behavior, or feel very sad or worried yourself, reach out to your pediatric provider,” Nolan says. “By identifying concerns or challenges early and preventing others from happening through early intervention, young children have a strong foundation for a lifetime of healthy development, learning and growth. In HealthySteps, we are there to help.”


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