Visiting the ER is stressful enough, but often more challenging for parents of a child with special needs or behavioral issues. The staff is often unfamiliar with their complex needs and prolonged waiting times expose them to other sick children. Some tips for navigating the ER:

• Check in with your child’s primary health care provider first. They may be able to arrange an outpatient specialty visit or see the child themselves to determine if an ER visit is necessary.

• If the ER is unavoidable, bring the child’s medications or an updated medication list including doses and times given. A quick summary of the child’s complex history is valuable, including names and numbers of the child’s clinicians.

• Bring personal items like blankets or teddy bears for comfort. This can help the child feel more secure in a stressful situation. Many hospitals offer Child Life services whose clinicians are highly trained to help families. They can provide distraction during unpleasant procedures and explain what to expect.

• If a special diet or formula is required, bring these with you. Although many hospitals can accommodate these needs on inpatient units, they may not be readily available in the ER.

Being a strong advocate for your child is essential in the ER. Clinicians are trained to “listen” to your valuable advice and expertise regarding your child’s unique and individual needs.

Suzanne Niro, B.S.N., C.P.E.N., at Boston Children’s Hospital, 617-355-7979.