Every Nurse’s Business: Building nurses’ capacity to provide health care for people with intellectual disability and/or autism

By the Primary Times Editorial Team  

Source: APNA Primary Times Summer 2021 (Volume 21, Issue 2)

Ongoing professional development and education is every nurse’s business. Nurses strive to provide the best health outcomes for their patients; however, caring for patients with intellectual disability (ID) and/or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can involve some unique challenges for health-care professionals.  

Few undergraduate nursing courses provide detailed information on how to meet the health-care needs of people with ID and/or ASD, and many registered nurses (RNs) find themselves in clinical settings where this gap in their education can compromise their capability to work effectively with these patients.  

Every Nurse’s Business is a free online learning resource that is designed to fill this gap. The continuing professional development (CPD) program offers RNs the opportunity to learn about people with ID and/or ASD and about how to improve their health outcomes.  

Professor Nathan Wilson, from Western Sydney University, is one of the leaders of this project, and he explains that people with ID and/or ASD make up 2–3% of the Australian population. Compared to the general population, these people tend to experience more chronic and complex health conditions, greater hospitalisation rates, longer hospital stays, and more complications following hospitalisation. They are also at risk of earlier mortality.  

According to Nathan, there are two core issues to be aware of when it comes to meeting the health-care needs of people with ID and/or ASD. ‘The first is related to acquiescence,’ he says. ‘People with ID are often keen to please. If they’re feeling anxious in a health-care setting, they might respond to a question with “yes” because they think it’s the right thing to say, when in fact they may not have understood the question. This can result in health-care professionals missing symptoms or issues specific to that person.’  

The second core issue is diagnostic over-shadowing. Nathan explains that ‘when patients with ID and/or ASD behave in an unusual manner, health-care professionals may view this as “disabled behaviour”; however, in some cases, this behaviour may be that person’s way of communicating their pain, discomfort or distress.’ Sadly, there have even been cases in Australia and overseas where someone with ID and/or ASD has died due to diagnostic over-shadowing.  

Every Nurse’s Business offers a valuable resource for nurses across Australia. It is designed to improve their confidence and proficiency in the care they provide for people with ID and/or ASD.  

It also accommodates the various needs of nurses in different healthcare settings with three different training levels. The foundation level provides key information for nurses who wish to increase their knowledge on the topic. There are videos, animations, and facts and figures. Completion of the quiz allows nurses to claim 1 CPD hour.  

The intermediate level will suit nurses who work regularly with patients with ID and/or ASD. This level is separated into seven separate learning domains, with a quiz at the end, and it’s worth 4 CPD hours.  

Some nurses may wish to become ‘champions’ in this area, and the advanced level combines the interactive content from the foundation and intermediate levels with extended content and an independent research project. There’s also a series of synchronous learning sessions on different topics and areas of practice, which are being held weekly in 4-week blocks until September 2022. These sessions are facilitated by ID and/or ASD nursing experts and allow participants to discuss some of the core issues in small groups. Participants can attend as many blocks of sessions as they like, as topics are varied over the year, and each session is worth 1 CPD hour.  

Every Nurse’s Business aims to make amazing nurses even more amazing, and to improve the health outcomes for patients with ID and/or ASD. The program can be accessed via the Professional Association of Nurses in Developmental Disability Australia (PANDDA) website, at https://learning.pandda.net/

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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