Child Life Specialist Brings Comfort with Care to McLeod Children’s Hospital


Hospital experiences can be extremely stressful and frightening to children and their families. The interruption of their normal routine, medical procedures, and family separation all have the potential to interfere with a child’s response to medical treatment.

In an effort to help its pediatric patients, ages 18 and under, have the best possible experience, McLeod Children’s Hospital offers the Child Life Program, which seeks to establish trust and provide children and their families a positive, informative and comfortable hospital stay. An integral part of this program is the Child Life Specialist, who is specially trained and specifically certified to create an individualized treatment plan based on an assessment of the child’s development, temperament, and coping style.

“Child Life Specialists help patients cope with trauma and/or hospitalization, provide normalization techniques, and advocate for patients, families and nurses,” says Olivia Whatley, McLeod Children’s Hospital Certified Child Life Specialist. “This involves explaining procedures by focusing on the child’s senses – what they may see, hear, smell, taste, or touch with regard to their medical treatment.

“Another component is normalization techniques, which simply means bringing things into the patient’s room that they would normally see outside of the hospital,” continues Whatley. “This is where Medical Play Therapy plays a special role.”

Medical Play Therapy allows children to play with medical equipment in a non-threatening manner and understand what treatments they are undergoing. One of the most important aspects of the Child Life Program is the opportunity for play. The Child Life Activity Center provides age-appropriate activities for young patients to learn and be creative while in a home-like environment. This play time encourages the use of motor skills, which is particularly beneficial for orthopedic patients.

“One of my favorite aspects of being a Child Life Specialist is advocating for patients, families, and nurses,” says Whatley. “I have a unique opportunity to advocate for the needs, wants, fears and privacy of our patients while also collaborating with their families and nurses to ensure a positive experience for everyone.”

Whatley, a Certified Child Life Specialist, graduated from Auburn University in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development with a concentration in Child Life. Her interest in Child Life developed after her first year of college when she volunteered for a day camp that incorporated equine therapy for children with disabilities and restrictions as well as children who had suffered a great loss or trauma. Through this program, Whatley learned firsthand how to use coping techniques catered specifically to the needs of the children to ensure a positive experience.