Purdue University School of Nursing students enjoyed an educational clinical day at Little Star Center (LSC) recently as part of their training in a clinical environment. Analei Whitlock, MSN, RN, CPNP and clinical assistant professor of the Purdue University School of Nursing, who coordinates the program for senior undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students, said, “I think it is very important for nursing students to have a grounded understanding of autism and evidenced-based treatment methods. Autism affects everyone in our communities and societies; the current rate of diagnosed autism is 1 in every 88 children. All nurses will have contact with and provide care for patients that have autism not only as children but as they grow to be adults.”

Whitlock and LSC Executive Director Mary Rosswurm developed goals for the experience at Little Star. The hours spent at LSC are applied toward the requirements for the undergraduate Pediatric Nursing Clinical that is separate from the BSN curriculum. “This is Little Star’s third semester working with the nursing program,” said Rosswurm. “We enjoy participating in the effort to help the students learn about autism and research-based therapy.”

The purpose of the educational clinical day is to help students understand what autism is and how it is diagnosed, what evidence-based treatment options are available, identify reputable resources to share with families, learn about applied behavioral analysis (ABA), observe ABA in practice, as well as interact with a variety of learners.

During the visit, the students followed a prepared agenda that included a center tour; presentations on topics including the history of LSC, autism and its diagnosis, early intervention, treatments, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, fad treatments, medical necessity, resources, advice for medical professionals; and then participated in learner observations with program managers.

After the educational clinical day at Little Star, the students were required to address each of the objectives in a written document to Whitlock describing their personal observations and how they met the goals. Whitlock said, “I cannot speak highly enough of Little Star Center. My students absolutely love the educational clinical day experience there. In fact, a number of them become interested in pursuing work in a nursing role with children with autism. Nurses who have a strong understanding of the pathology, the evidenced-based treatment, and reliable sources for further knowledge are nurses who are advocates for their patients.”