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'Bag of calm' created by mum used at Minor Injuries Unit

A simple ‘bag of calm’ created by a mother whose son has autism is being used at Yate Minor Injuries Unit to help other children struggling to cope with the medical surroundings.

It is thought the unit, which is run by Sirona care & health, is the first of its type to offer this support to children and their families and matron Sarah Tosh is hoping other emergency departments will also adopt it.

Sarah discussed ways of improving the experience for autistic children with Kelly Lloyd when Rowan, six, needed care after hurting his ankle playing football.

Kelly immediately created a special bag complete with sensory based toys and a brightly coloured weighted cuddle blanket for use by staff in the unit, which already has a child friendly distraction box in the clinic rooms and a quiet room where people can wait if need be.

Now Sarah is hoping to introduce information cards for parents and carers to use if they need to attend the unit. The Sirona cards could then be presented at reception when a child is booked in to make staff aware of specific triggers or fears which may heighten an individual’s anxiety. She is also encouraging people to use the National Autistic Society’s passports which can be used across a range of facilities.

Sirona is a not-for-profit social enterprise providing community health and care services in South Gloucestershire, Bristol and parts of Bath and North East Somerset. The care provided by its staff was recently rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission.

Kelly, 41, a mother-of-four, from Coalpit Heath, near Bristol, said: “It is so lovely that Sarah and Sirona embraced this; “there aren’t words to describe what it means. We all know the pressure that staff are under but they are taking the time to make a difference. This is going above and beyond and if it helps just one child, then it has been worth it.”

Jo Marie Shanks, from the community organisation South Glos Parents & Carers, said: “I think it is amazing; we like celebrating good practice and we are keen to promote this as it is improving access to services and reducing stress levels for families.”

Kelly has already worked on the bags with the Bristol Autism Support and they are now commonly found in museums across the city.

Kelly said: “Everybody has heard of autism but they don’t necessarily know what it means or the best way to communicate. ¬†Language is not as important as visual communication and anxiety levels for children with autism can increase very quickly. I want to do as much as I can to raise awareness.”

Sarah said: “We are all unique and deal with things differently; children with autism need a different approach as they cannot communicate how they feel. They often have a very high pain threshold and can be walking on a broken limb but not know it.

“If a parent or carer informs our receptionist that their child is autistic, we ensure they are seen quickly as we know they do not like lots of noise and can be agitated by lights or sounds and there are different triggers which can cause them to be upset. The bag is full of sensory related items which will help keep them calm while they are being assessed and I’m sure it will make a difference.

“We are also developing the information cards but in the meantime my message to parents and carers is to make sure they tell our reception staff if their child is autistic and we will make sure the bag of calm is available and nursing staff are made aware. The weighted blanket is like receiving a hug as it makes someone feel secure.”