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4/27/23 blog post

our sensory program sets the gold standard for patient care

Did you know that Dayton Children’s has a sensory program for children who need a surgery or procedure?

What started as a program specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder, has expanded to assisting all children who have special needs and higher anxieties around coming to the hospital for a surgical procedure.

Surgery can be scary for any child, but it is especially traumatic for children with special needs. Some children may not understand what’s going on which can cause them to act out and become very irritated.

In the past, the answer to this was to provide a pre-surgery calming medication to help the child cope. But today we have different options! 

so how do we combat this without medication?

In 2017, 90% of children requiring surgery at Dayton Children’s required pre-surgery calming medication prior to the implementation of our sensory-friendly surgery experience.

A team of Dayton Children’s employees led by pediatric anesthesiologist, Sean Antosh, MD, knew that there was a better way to meet the needs of these children without resorting to medication. Together they found a way to create a more relaxed, sensory friendly environment to soothe and distract kids before surgery, by creating our pre-op sensory-friendly rooms!

These rooms may include:

  • Sensory rover that includes fiber optics appealing to touch, a water feature appealing to sight and more
  • Projectors that can display a child’s favorite calming remedy (i.e., fish in the ocean)
  • Quiet with low lighting
  • Color mood lighting through a marble LED wall and wall light tiles
  • Fidget objects for children that are hyperactive
  • Liquid color changing floor tiles to walk on and explore
  • Bouncy chairs and floor cushions
  • White noise machines
  • Personal headphones
  • Weighted blankets

“Our sensory program for surgical patients has really evolved over the last six years,” Dr. Antosh explains.

“By creating a sensory-friendly experience for kids before surgery, it removes triggers and allows kids to feel more comfortable and calmer while the medical team prepares them for surgery."

Dr. Anotsh goes on to explain, "the perioperative staff has been extensively trained in the needs of those with sensory processing issues and how to best accommodate the care we give on a daily basis.”

Click the video below to watch our sensory room in action

how does the program work?

During our routine call before surgery, the scheduler will ask you a series of questions to determine if your child is a candidate for our sensory friendly pre-operative room.

If the room is determined necessary, one of our child life specialists will reach out to develop a coping plan that is specific to your child!


5 benefits of the sensory program:

  • Reduction of pre-surgery calming medication
  • Quicker recovery times
  • When patients are calm going into surgery, they typically wake up calm after surgery
  • Parents feel more at ease bringing their special needs child in for surgery
  • Patients are able to overcome their fear of coming to the hospital

Since the start of our sensory program in 2017, the experience has helped reduce the amount of pre-surgery calming medicine from 90% to 20% of patients.

We have also been able to expand the sensory program to other areas of the hospital including in our lab and imaging department, our south campus surgery center, as well as offer the experience to kids with other special needs and higher anxieties coming to the hospital.

national recognition 

In 2021, Parent's Magazine named Dayton Children's as one of top 15 children's hospitals in innovation and technology for our sensory program.

Parents are in awe of how we are transforming care for their child with sensory needs.

One mom said, “We walked in and immediately felt more at ease. The lights were turned down low. There was a projection of fish on the wall. They had a fiberoptic bubble machine. There were markers for Declan to color on the bed. Basically, anything they could do to help Declan not think about being at the hospital.”

If you think that your child may benefit from a sensory friendly surgery experience, please let the scheduler know during your pre-operative call.

Learn more about our sensory program here.