'It takes away the fear': Specialist helps kids understand the hospital

Maryse Deslauriers spends her days at the children's hospital in Ottawa playing with and speaking to kids to help them better understand their illness and treatment.

Maryse Deslauriers plays games with children to help them cope at CHEO

Maryse Deslauriers is a child life specialist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where she helps children cope with the painful and confusing parts of being sick. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Maryse Deslauriers spends her days at the children's hospital in Ottawa playing with and speaking to kids to help them better understand their illness and treatment. 

Ten years ago, the child life specialist started out as a volunteer at CHEO while she was still in high school.

Now, she is part of the hospital's psychosocial team trying to help sick kids feel more comfortable during their time in hospital.

"A lot of kids cope better once they understand what is happening, because it takes away the fear and the unknown of what's going to happen," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday. 

"Kids who don't understand what's happening around them in a medical environment, you can see them regress."

Using play to remove anxiety, fear 

A child life specialist is trained in child development.

They help address a child's psychosocial concerns using therapeutic play and expressive activities.

They also teach children about procedures and coping techniques.

Sometimes Deslauriers gets young patients to play the role of a doctor caring for a small toy patient to understand the toy's medical needs and to provide care.

"If you have never been in this kind of environment before, it can be intimidating with the people and the machines and the things going on around you," Deslauriers said. 

"Play is a medium that kids use everyday in their learning … It makes them feel more normal, [there's] more routine and it takes some of that fear and anxiety away."

Maryse Deslauriers and a patient at CHEO pretended this little doll was a patient. They helped place a little cast on the doll's leg. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Deslauriers said she remembers a three-year-old boy at the hospital who thought that a surgery meant amputation.

When he underwent his surgery, he woke up with a blanket over his legs and refused to walk, saying he no longer had legs. 

She said children often need support in understanding the procedures they go through. 

"If kids don't understand what's happening, they make up their own explanations," she said.

"There are a lot of misconceptions and it can create fear."