NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — April is Autism Awareness Month. For families with children dealing with severe autism, there are very few options for care. Connecticut’s only in-patient pediatric autism center recently got a major upgrade, and News8 is the only TV station ever allowed inside.
“We also talked about feelings and behaviors,” explained 11-year-old Jordan Carney.
Help dealing with feelings and behaviors is exactly what brought Jordan to the Autism Services wing of the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain. It is a lot more helpful than the kind of hospital where Jordan and her mother kept ending up.
“We were visiting emergency rooms a couple of times and it was becoming a problem where we were having trouble staying at home and being safe,” said Jordan’s mother, Tammy Jordan.
Three years ago, we took you inside the 8-bed, in-patient child autism ward of the Hospital for Special Care and told you about expansion plans. That expansion opened last October, thanks to millions in state bonding and private fundraising.
Autism patients now have their own entrance and their own outdoor play areas. Inside are a dozen private rooms off of a common area. Skylights have filters because people on the autism spectrum are sensitive to bright light. They also don’t like loud noises, so there are sound-deadening panels. Everything is in soothing neutral colors.
All those little details are possible because they designed the autism wing from the ground up to help kids on the autism spectrum. That goes all the way down to the special chairs that weigh 40 or 50 pounds so the kids can’t pick them up and move them. Everything is designed with patients’ safety in mind.
“The demand for in-patient autism units is extremely high,” said Dr. Hasan Minhas, the hospital’s Chief of Autism Services. “We are one of very few in-patient facilities in the country, one of the only ones in the area.”
The waiting list can be dozens of patients long. There is another option, however. Part of the expansion involved creating a new Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).
“Five days a week, children come in the afternoon, spend the whole day after school,” Minhas explained.
Five kids at a time come together for lessons that are special to people on the spectrum.
“Focused on social skills, leisure skills, and emotions, some academic skills,” explained behavioral analyst Kate Rafferty (BCBA), who worked with Jordan in the PHP.
“My days got better,” said Jordan about her time in the PHP. She is one of the first graduates. The days got better for her mom, too.
“She’s a lot more regulated now,” said Tammy. “Dealing with her feelings.”
“And it was really nice because they got going on it, saw success, and now they can go home to their home base supports and continue that work,” Rafferty said.
Jordan is not only living at home but heading back to school. She says she wants to go to college one day. After that?
“Doctor or nurse, I don’t know,” Jordan said.
Instead of dreading hospitals, she now wants to work in one.