Passport to Understanding – New Program Helps Surgery Patients with Autism

By Jennifer Sellers

Five-year-old Taylor Burleson of Leicester has autism and uses a communication device to talk. When he was at the Asheville Surgery Center, an affiliate of Mission Health, to have tubes put in his ears, the new Linked Program pilot the center had implemented to assist children with autism spectrum disorders made his experience go smoothly.

The program implements evidence-based strategies that improve the experience for children with autism and their families every step along the way, including scheduling, registration, preparation, recovery, discharge and follow up, said Lisa A. Clark, MSN, RN, PCCN, a registered nurse at the Asheville Surgery Center.

“Each child with autism having surgery at the Asheville Surgery Center needs individualized care and a multidisciplinary team of nurses, anesthesiologists, registration staff, Child Life specialists and certified nurse anesthetists collaborating to reduce stress and anxiety for them and their caregivers,” said Clark.

Clark pointed out that perioperative areas of a hospital or clinic can be especially challenging to those with autism. “At those times, they may be exposed to changes in routine, noisy or busy environments, medical equipment and different types of communication,” she said. “It can be hard for them to make sense of their environment and can be scary for them.”

Taylor’s mother, Chasity Burleson, agreed. “If the child has autism, getting them back as quickly as possible is important,” she said. “Waiting rooms are overstimulating for me, and I’m not autistic, so I can only imagine how it is for my son and other children.”

The Linked Program has an extensive protocol that begins with an All about Me Passport parents can fill out prior to the visit. This “passport” allows parents to detail their child’s functional level and needs so that the surgery center’s team can create an individualized plan of care.

“Taylor also got to keep his iPad for distraction, and they made sure I was in recovery as soon as possible so that I could be there when he was waking up,” said Chasity. “I think it’s a fantastic program.”

The Linked Program offers:


Lisa A. Clark, MSN, RN, PCCN, is a registered nurse with Asheville Surgery Center, an affiliate of Mission Health.

Learn more about Mission Health surgical services at MissionHealth.org/Surgery [1].