How Play is Helping UMMC’s Youngest Patients
By: Colleen Schmidt, System Communications Intern
As many parents know, the hospital can be a scary and unfamiliar place for a child. To help relax these fears, UMMC’s team of child life specialists and assistants use a variety of techniques to help children adjust to the hospital setting. Child life specialists, or CLS, aim to provide a positive and non-traumatic hospital experience for all patients at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. UMMC’s Child Life team consists of six CLS and two assistants. They work in the Pediatric Progressive Care Unit (PPCU), Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the Pediatric ER.
Play is one technique often used by child life team to help normalize the child’s hospital experience. Various types of play are thoughtfully used to help children meet developmental milestones, express emotions, and understand their medical situation. For example, during a practice called medical play, a CLS will provide their patient with a “hospital buddy” or small doll that the child can decorate. Next, with the guidance of a CLS, the child is introduced to medical equipment that they can explore and use on their new hospital buddy. According to Aubrey Donley, a CLS at the pediatric ER, medical play is helpful in addressing misconceptions the child has about medical equipment.
“It gives them a sense of control and mastery over their hospital experience and over what they’ve been through,” she explains. Medical play empowers patients and allows them to have an active role in their hospitalization. Helping the children understand their environment lessens the chances of confusing or traumatizing them.
In addition to medical play, the child life team uses therapeutic play to help children work through a variety of issues that may accompany hospitalization. Sometimes, children who are hospitalized have experienced severe trauma. Unlike adults, children may not be able to verbalize their feelings. Play is how they express themselves and work through their experiences. For example, one of Donley’s young patients survived a house fire and used play to understand what happened to him. “He was running around in a fireman costume pretending to put out a fire. For an onlooker, it might seem like he was just playing but we understand he is trying to make sense of the chaos and trauma that he had witnessed,” she explained. Therapeutic play can also help children who are at the hospital for long periods of time meet their physical and cognitive milestones.
With backgrounds in child development, the child life team is able to make individual plans for each child that matches their medical, physical, and emotional needs. The team advocates for the children they support, and work with an interdisciplinary team of medical professionals to provide a comprehensive plan for that child. Child life specialists also provide educational and emotional support for families. All services provided by the child life team come at no charge to families.
For more information on our child life services please visit: http://umm.edu/programs/childrens/services/inpatient/child-life