Health care heroes: Guiding patients and families at home

Health care heroes: Guiding patients and families at home

“Like most people, the patients and families I work with are very stressed,” says Dr. Jennifer Palmer, a clinical psychologist in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Palmer provides behavior therapy to children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. She also provides parent training and support.

“Often, this looks like supporting patients and their families in understanding diagnoses, guiding parents in teaching their children appropriate skills (e.g. social skills, calm down skills) and introducing behavior management strategies aimed at reducing challenging behaviors like tantrums aggression,” she says.

She’s continued working tirelessly with families and children with ASD to ensure they have the support and strategies they need at home during this time of significant disruption to routines. She now sees her patients and their families for behavior therapy over telehealth. “The shift has involved an increased focus on working with patients’ parents as well as a need to be flexible and creative in how I provide therapy.”

During the pandemic, Dr. Palmer has also gone to the hospital to collaborate with our Adaptive Care team (consisting of occupational and speech therapists to support individuals with ASD who are hospitalized) to care for patients. She helped support her patient and their nursing team by providing behavior strategies and visual supports. “It was very rewarding to see this patient go from being extremely distressed in the hospital setting to more and more calm and adjusted to the hospital setting,” she says.

Dr. Palmer’s patients often thrive on a predictable routine, which has made disruptions in their regular schedules from COVID as well as the transition to e-learning particularly challenging, anxiety-provoking and overwhelming.

“These parents are facing unique challenges. They’re working hard to support their children through increased tantrums and challenging behaviors. They’re also having to support their child in remote education, special education supports and outpatient therapies.”

Before COVID, a child’s school team and outpatient therapist worked directly with the child. Now, parents are doing much of that work with the guidance of specialists or therapists. This responsibility is heaped onto to pile of other stressors parents face like their career, supporting other children and family members getting sick. Parents of children with ASD already experience high levels of stress as it is.

“Virtual visits are essential to my patients and their parents right now. The ongoing, regular support provides comfort and guidance during this stressful time. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how telehealth can truly support my families in different ways.”

Dr. Palmer says she’s learned telehealth can help families take what they work on in session and make it successful in the home environment.

“This is possible because via telehealth, I’m able to guide patients and families in their own home. For example, I’ve been able to collaborate with a speech therapist for feeding therapy sessions for a few patients. We’ve guided families of children with ASD and feeding challenges by watching them eat a typical meal at home and giving recommendations on how to increase their child’s positive eating habits while they are in their own dining area. I think the convenience of telehealth really increases access to therapy.”

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.