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Nursing for Autism Across the Lifespan Highlighted in New Book

Dr. Ellen Giarelli


The growing number of children and adults on the autism spectrum represent a growing need for quality health care that is sensitive to the issues they face. This is the premise and challenge behind a new text, Nursing of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence-based Integrated Care across the Lifespan (Springer, April 2012), edited by Dr. Ellen Giarelli, an associate professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, with Dr. Marcia Gardner.

“People with autism spectrum disorders will cross our paths as nurses everywhere in the health care system,” Giarelli said. “Whether they're going into the emergency room with a broken arm or getting a tonsillectomy, or later in life getting a prostatectomy, nurses will be caring for them. We need to integrate their needs with the process of care.”

Seeking to address that need, Nursing of Autism Spectrum Disorder is the only text, to date, that examines professional nursing skills applied to the specific problems arising from the delivery of health care to people with ASD. It is intended as a textbook for advanced nursing students.

In the book, Giarelli and Gardner emphasize a social model of disability to describe the challenges individuals on the autism spectrum encounter in health care settings. As Giarelli explained, “Part of disability is a function of how environments are not suited for them, and we're not able to make the right accommodations.”

For example, Giarelli noted that emergency rooms are a particularly challenging environment for ASD patients. She plans to conduct research to examine the sensory stimuli, visual stimuli, noise intrusion and smells of the emergency room environment to help identify improvements or accommodations to support the needs of autistic patients.

Giarelli, an advanced-practice nurse with extensive research experience, specializes in life-long medical, psychological, social and health care needs of people with autism and other genetic disorders diagnosed in childhood. She serves as the president of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics.

“Looking at approaches that can improve the lives of people on the autism spectrum, in real-world community settings such as health care environments, is so important for helping meeting the needs of this population,” said Dr. Craig Newschaffer, a professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biosatistics in Drexel’s School of Public Health. Newschaffer directs Drexel’s new A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, the nation’s first autism center focused on public health science.