Nurse's Station

3 Simple Tips For Dealing With Special Needs Patients


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The job of a nurse is always difficult, with all sorts of challenges along the way. However, when it comes to working with special needs patients, that job can become more complicated.

If you are just starting, it might feel equal parts thrilling and overwhelming. You know what you have to do and why. You’ve seen other nurses around you doing a fantastic job, and you’ve got a few ideas how to attend special needs patients.

But, it would help to have more knowledge. Here are three important tips that can help you when working with special needs patients.

Don’t Treat Them Differently


Managing patients with disabilities requires a more thorough preparation as you need to be very aware of their needs, without making them feel uncomfortable.

The first thing that you must do as a nurse is to put yourself in their shoes. Interacting with special needs patients will become much easier if you would try to imagine how you would like people to treat you if you were suffering from a disability. Therefore, when dealing with that patient, you must not focus on their disability or act any differently than you would do with a regular patient. Treating them as equal is essential in your interaction with them.

Also, although this applies to regular patients as well, you should always remember not to talk loud to a patient with special needs. Specifically, under no circumstances should you use a voice that is louder than usual, child-like vocabulary, or pet names.  Also, do not pat the person on his/her back or head. The reason the behavior mentioned above shouldn’t be used is that the patient with a special need will assume that you are treating them as a child. Instead, the voice and the vocabulary should be normal, just like you are using when talking with any other patients.

However, if the person is hard of hearing or has a cognitive disability, then it is necessary that you slow your speech down a bit and also use a higher voice if the patient suffers from hearing loss. These situations are best handled by asking the patient how he/she would prefer that you talk to them.

Treat Them With Respect


Another important thing to remember is to be respectful. You can achieve that through many ways, such as asking them what terminology they prefer regarding their disability and use that. For instance, you should try using the name of the person first, before the disability, or try avoiding the words “disabled” or “handicapped” since it may seem insulting.

One of the most often mistakes is reducing the vocabulary to the basic words. However, this shouldn’t be done unless the patient suffers from a communication difficulty or a severe intellectual difficulty. In this case, the same rule as above applies – ask the person about their language needs.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t use any term or label that is offensive since it will be perceived as highly disrespectful or hurtful. However, don’t be afraid to use the standard phrases like “I’ve got to run”, since they are not hurtful, they are simply considered common phrases.

Learn How To Communicate With Them


Even if your patient has a translator or an assistant present with them, you should refrain yourself from addressing that person instead of the patient. Also, although the person may not display the regular listening body language, that does not mean that they cannot hear you.

To make it easier for both of you, try to put yourself on the same level as your patients since the communication done face to face will be much easier this way. Looking at it from a medical perspective, if the conversation is rather long, then your patient might end up with a neck strain.

Never interrupt the patient, even if they expresses words slower. Even if you don’t exactly understand what they are saying, the best thing is to ask questions that help you grasp the meaning of their words.

If you believe that your job as a nurse would be much easier if you would learn more about your patient’s disability, then don’t hesitate to ask them about it. This can help you find out valuable information, such as if they prefer to take the stairs with you or the elevator.

As a nurse, it is quite important that the patient feels that you are genuinely helping them. However, you must not make them feel like they are unable to look after themselves, so the line is quite thin here. That is why you must ask them whether or not they want your help in certain situations.

Working with a patient with special needs can often be difficult but there is nothing that good communication and patience can’t achieve. At the end of the day, you might even notice that it’s not more difficult than handling a regular patient. What are some lessons that you have learned?


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