Inova Loudoun Hospital Launches First Sensory-Friendly Children’s Emergency Room in Washington, DC Area

Leesburg, VA — The Inova Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital  – Loudoun County’s only pediatric Emergency Room (ER) – is now sensory-friendly.

Child Life specialist Allyson Halverson

Child Life Specialist Allyson Halverson

Visiting an ER is often challenging for children, but for those with a sensory processing disorder (SPD) — such as autism — the experience can be particularly difficult. Sounds, smells and chaotic motion can easily make these children feel overwhelmed and over stimulated.  “We want families to know that we understand sensory processing challenges. Our goal is to ease their anxieties while providing exceptional care,” says Allyson Halverson, certified Child Life Specialist, Inova Loudoun Hospital (ILH) Pediatrics Department.

In partnership with the Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus, The George Washington University, and ILH’s Outpatient Specialty Rehabilitation Center, ILH designed a comprehensive sensory-friendly training program for emergency room staff. After conducting focus groups and polling more than 350 individuals across the DC metro area, the hospital implemented new protocols and physical modifications to the department that can significantly reduce sensory problems for children and their families.

Rooms are equipped with dimmed lighting and soft music; unnecessary medical equipment is removed from the child’s sight; and sensory friendly items like weighted blankets, iPads and fidget toys are readily accessible for families.  In an effort to better communicate with the child, parents are asked to complete a parental intake form outlining their child’s preferred communication style, motivators, stressors and sensory challenges. Storyboards are also used when necessary.

“The Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus was very excited to partner with Inova Loudoun Hospital on this innovative venture,” stated Kendra McDonald, Clinical Director, Paxton Advantage Behavior Clinic. “We were honored to use our expertise in serving kids with autism and offer our input to help ILH to develop an Autism-friendly ER to meet the medical needs of children with different abilities in Loudoun County.”

“Only a few other hospitals nationwide have put these capabilities in place,” Halverson says. “While this is a relatively new program for us, we’ve already seen a culture shift in our ER. When an autistic patient arrives, everyone takes the time to slow down, put our new protocols into motion, and ensure that the child and family are comfortable. That’s really exciting! We’re eager to continue our training, implement new strategies and show that even a busy setting like an ER can be sensory-friendly.”

The Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital is open year round – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and exclusively treats patients from 0-21 years of age.  The medical team includes board certified pediatric emergency physicians, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and pediatric nurses certified in Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). On-site Child Life Specialists help kids feel safe and secure during their stay.

Media Contact: Reneé Brohard, 540-454-3493

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Inova Loudoun Hospital, serving Loudoun County for over 100 years, is part of Inova, a not-for-profit healthcare system based in Northern Virginia that consists of hospitals and other health services, including emergency- and urgent-care centers, home care, nursing homes, mental health and blood donor services, and wellness classes. Governed by a voluntary board of community members, Inova’s mission is to improve the health of the diverse community it serves through excellence in patient care, education and research.

About Inova

Inova is a global leader in personalized health, which leverages precision medicine to predict, prevent and treat disease, enabling individuals to live longer, healthier lives. At Inova, we serve more than 2 million people each year from throughout the Washington, DC, metro area and beyond.

We are shaping the future of health through our integrated network of hospitals, primary and specialty care practices, emergency and urgent care centers, outpatient services and destination institutes.  Our commitment to health and wellness is further reflected in our sustainable practices. Inova is home to world-class researchers, expert medical specialists and renowned scientists, who are driving innovation to improve patient care, prevent disease and promote wellness. For more information, visit, or find Inova on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Paxton Campus is a (501)(c)(3), non-profit organization that advocates for and provides direct service to adults and children with disabilities, as well as their families and caretakers, through its many programs: The Aurora School, Open Door Learning Center, ALLY Advocacy Center, STEP Up and Maggie’s Closet. Our overhead admin cost is a very low 5.6%; which means that almost .95 cents of every donated dollar goes right back to our programs.

About Child Life services at Inova

Inova Child Life Specialists are trained professionals dedicated to easing children’s stress and anxieties during a hospital stay or outpatient procedure. Educated in child development and family systems, Child Life Specialists promote effective coping through play, procedural preparation, education and self-expressing activities. They provide emotional support for families and encourage optimal development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences — particularly those related to healthcare and hospitalization. When visiting Inova Loudoun Hospital with a child, ask to speak with one of the Child Life Specialists.

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