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Child Life Specialists are the Unsung Heroes

Article posted on Thursday, July, 22nd, 2010 at 8:00 am

I never knew they existed, but now that I do, I tell everyone about them.

Child Life Specialists are pediatric specialists (not doctors) working with families who are hospitalized.  Their focus is to help families manage stress that comes along with medical trauma, understand medical procedures, and aid in the mental well being of pediatric patients. You can learn more by visiting the  Child Life Council.org

While we were at Greenville Childrens Hospital for Neely’s ADEM Recovery, the Child Life Specialists came to visit us every day. Sometimes several times each day. They used medical play to help Neely understand and act out the things that were happening to her.  She was given a medical doll, a faceless, cloth doll. Neely was given the opportunity to draw a face on the doll, put clothes on the doll, and use toy replicas of medical devices to “doctor” the doll.

When Neely first created her dolls face, she drew the face, and then covered the dolls eyes with band-aids.  (Anytime Neely was visit by a nurse or a doctor, she covered her own eyes. Usually with her arm or her blankie.)  Neely got to be in complete control of her doll.  The Child Life Specialist was there to ask questions, play, and guide Neely through the medical play process.  Its difficult for a child (Neely was on 2 at the time) to express what they are feeling in words. Medical play is a great way for them to show their fears and exert some control over what is happening to them. But that was really just the beginning….

When the Child Life Specialist comes to visit they bring lots of fun with them.  Toys, sticker sheets, coloring pages, movies, music, and more.  Neely looked so forward to her visits with them and it wasn’t long before she began to smile when they entered her room. (Instead of covering her eyes)

At one point during Neely’s recovery, she believed that her arms and legs were covered in spiders. She would scream and cry, scratching at her arms and legs begging us to get them off.  (It was terrible – completely broke my heart) We learned that if we covered her arms and legs with adhesive gauze she could cope much better.  She still believed the spiders were under the gauze, but felt better if they were covered up.  The Child Life Specialist helped us to locate bright pink and purple gauze to wrap Neely’s arms and legs. (She was like a little neon mummy – But it worked.)

The Child Life Specialist care extends beyond the patient too.  They spent time with Neely’s sister, Ava too.  They helped Ava to better understand what was happening to Neely, ease her fears about her sister’s illness and help her to feel more comfortable at the hospital.

The Child Life Specialists are hospital heroes too!  (And most of what they do is made possible by donations – so consider them when you are making decisions about your charitable contributions.)

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