Case Management, Life Care Plan, Medical Consultation

Care Management: Seeking Allies for Autism

 October 27, 2016

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

For those of us in the business of care management, we are not merely interested in customers. We are always seeking allies. A doctor may hold the ultimate license to look after our health but looking after each other is a responsibility we should all share. It is the reason why we, as advocates for individuals in need of care, do what we do. We are always happy to point out examples of how easy it is to be an ally to our cause. Paul Kourtis is the store director of a brand-new Shop-Rite in Brookhaven, PA.  The example he set recently with a single checkout lane in his grocery store defines what being an ally means to us.

Making Connections to Autism

Making the human connection necessary to gain adequate understanding of the needs of an autistic child can prove difficult when dealing with an organization as large as the Target chain of department stores. Regardless of the quality of their customer service on any given day, it just takes a while for any message to travel through those corporate channels.

Just ask Kristin Jackowski, mother of three, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Her five-year-old, NavyAnna, has sensory issues that are typical of children on the spectrum. Jackowski recently started a petition on Change.org imploring Target to designate a single lane with more autism-friendly items. If you’ve ever ran out of patience while begging your kid to stop touching things, you’ve only scratched the surface of what the parent of an autistic child faces on a daily basis. Think of it like this. The checkout lane is a trap set for impulse shoppers. Children on the autism spectrum can have very low impulse control. The average checkout cashier has very little sensitivity training, to say the least. Are you starting to get the picture? It’s not just the parent’s problem when an autistic child throws a tantrum. Those around her will certainly notice what is different about this tantrum because the child will likely exhibit what are called sims. The term may be unfamiliar but the self-stimulating behavior it refers to are certainly now. Twirling our hair or tapping a pencil are stims that all of us exhibit, possibly due to anxiety. So when you see a child rocking back and forth or banging his or head with one of their hands, you might summon a little sympathy for both child and parent.

Making Accommodations for Autism

Paul Kourtis did not even require that to act. When he became aware of Jackowski’s petition, he not only failed to see why her needs would be difficult to accommodate, he immediately realized how readily he could be the one to make such accommodations in his own store. Kourtis needed no petition or upset customer when he approached his boss, Pat Burns, with his idea to replace the items in a single checkout lane with “sensory-friendly” items such as rattles, puzzles and Play-doh. While Target is playing catch-up and valiant moms like Jackowski campaign for change, the Shop-Rite on Edgemont Avenue in Brookhaven, PA, is already seeing a flurry of activity drawn to a sign depicting a single puzzle piece. To anyone who loves someone with autism and those who advocate for them, the puzzle piece represents the complexity of the autistic mind. Parents of autistic children are not so much seeking a cure but finding the right ‘fit’ for them in the grand puzzle of life we all navigate each day.

Kourtis is an ally because he saw a solution and executed it on his own initiative. A care manager will take the case of an individual with a disability, along with his or her family, and strive to be as effective as Kourtis was in addressing that single issue, while potentially facing a multitude of challenges. Uplifting stories about sensory-friendly checkout lanes provide the fuel for what we do.

AdvancedRM and Autism

Sensory-friendly checkout lanes are the sort of accommodations we at AdvancedRM seek out on a daily basis. The reason is because we regularly hear from parents of autistic children, seeking much-needed assistance. Just read the story of Jared, on our web site. Social services, vocational services and living arrangements all comprise a new and more fulfilling life for Jared. All his parents ever wanted was for him to lead a productive life where he could be happy and independent. While Jared may be a young man, we welcome parents of autistic children of all ages to contact us. As advocates or care managers, we are constantly on the lookout for useful information such as the checkout lane example. AdvancedRM accumulates the most up-to-date research and articles so that we will be most prepared for whatever your needs may be.

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