Foundation Research Grant - Pain in Children with Autism

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In 2012, the American Nurses Foundation provided a grant to Amanda Brown, MSN, RN, CPN, CNL, of the University of Florida as part of the Foundation’s Nursing Research Grants program. Established in 1955, the program encourages rigorous scientific research to advance nursing practice, shape health policy, and impact the health of people across the nation. Since the program’s inception over 1,000 nurse researchers have received over $4 million in grants to conduct ground-breaking studies that shape and influence nursing practices and play a vital role in launching larger scientific health research. The Foundation’s grant allowed Amanda to study pediatric nurses’ assessment of procedural pain in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Amanda’s nephew was diagnosed with autism while she was an undergraduate, and as a pediatric nurse she saw first-hand the struggles of these unique patients and their families. “Many of the families were tired and frustrated”, said Brown. “I knew from personal experience how difficult daily life with autism can be and how just one little bump in the road can cause major upheaval. This is what led me down the road of pain assessment in children with autism.”

Quinn Hancock was one of the children who participated in Amanda’s study. When Quinn was in pain, like many kids with autism, he wasn’t able to communicate his needs. He didn’t have the language skills to tell his parents what was hurting, and what he needed. “There was a time when Quinnie stopped eating – would only eat very small portions,” described Quinn’s mom Summer. “He became more and more weepy and irritable. This went on for weeks, until one day when I was holding him and trying to soothe him, I noticed his stomach was extremely hard. It turned out he had an impacted bowel. He had been in so much pain, but couldn’t tell us why. It is hard and emotionally draining to watch your child in pain, and you can’t do anything because you don’t really know what’s wrong. They can’t tell you where or why it hurts.”

Quinn’s parents had tried everything to help him improve his language skills. Then in 2012 they had the chance to participate in Amanda’s research. The purpose of Amanda’s study was to determine if pain assessment instruments that had been developed for use in other populations could also be used for children with autism. The study has great potential to impact children with autism, just like Quinn, and their families. “I am so grateful to have been part of research that could help kids like Quinnie,” said Summer. “Knowing that nurses like Amanda are committed to changing how children with autism communicate pain means more than I can say.”

Each year the Foundation funds nurse-led, patient-centered research. But beyond research, they support programs that are making an impact on nurses and their patients across the nation. Whether it’s for programs that support nurses’ health and safety to promoting leadership opportunities to helping nurses in times of disaster, supporters of the Foundation are changing the future of health care.

For more information on how to apply for a research grant, or to support the Nursing Research Grants program, contact contact Gisele Marshall at 301-628-5229 or