Between the vibrating table and the obnoxious ramblings of our machine, completing an MRI in a calm and motionless fashion can be difficult. Even as adults, we can have trouble talking ourselves into such a strange photo capturing experience. Add being a child who is diagnosed with autism into the mix, and completing an entire MRI smoothly can seem utterly impossible. At Cincinnati Children’s, we have multiple tips, tricks, and techniques that may help your child with autism complete his or her exam successfully.
Our first, and probably best, resource is the hardworking and wonderfully cheery Child Life department. Child Life is a unique branch of Cincinnati Children’s focusing solely on your child’s well-being and overall experience. Child Life specialists have been trained to identify and deal with situations that may cause your child distress or anxiety. Because there are certain occurrences that can trigger issues for children with autism, these specialists will help our imaging techs ensure your child is taken care of in the best way possible. In MRI we use their expert advice to coach your children on the steps involved with the exam (loud noises, vibrating table, possible IV, etc…) and to transition your child gently from the preparation room to the scanner bed.
As much as we appreciate our Child Life specialists, once your child is within the MRI scanner, communication is limited and Child Life is no longer able to be utilized. At this point we have many options to assist and distract your child. Through movie goggles and headphones your child can enjoy a movie, television show, or radio station. Selections for movies, TV stations and radio stations may be limited depending on location, but DVDs or CDs can be brought in if a particular film or album is desired for the exam.
Oftentimes sounds, such as those from the machine or headphones, can be the main issue for children with autism. For such cases we can provide earplugs and attempt to cushion the head, which will dampen any external auditory stimuli. If none of these other interventions get your child through the procedure, there is always the last resort of general anesthesia or sedation.
General anesthesia and sedation are wonderful possibilities if there are no other choices, but with anesthetic medication there is always an added risk versus finishing the imaging without any additional substance. There is always the option to schedule within an anesthesia time slot, but attempt the scan without the medication first. Your child would get pre-screened and prepped (NPO instructions) like they were going to receive anesthesia, but they could initially try completing the exam before receiving the medication. If your child can capture the pictures without the use of anesthesia, then they would be done with their visit. If not, then our anesthesia team would be prepared to put them to sleep for the remainder of the study.
Getting your child safely and calmly through the scan is our number one priority. As technology improves and new research develops, we are continually adapting and adjusting our protocols to better suit you and your child.