Connie McIntosh keeps her word.

Eight years ago, McIntosh’s friend took her own son to a hospital for treatment. The experience was unpleasant for the boy, who has autism. No one in the emergency room knew how to relate to him.

My friend called me up and said. ‘Would you please help me educate registered nurses and physicians on how to work with my child with special needs.’ From that spurred my passion for research in autism, and I’m fulfilling a promise to her.

McIntosh is an associate professor of nursing in the College of Health. She is also a registered nurse with an EdD in special education from Ball State, and her specialty is in improving health care for people with autism.

Autism is a diagnosis known mostly for affecting social skills, behavior, and communication. But people with autism are also more likely to suffer from certain medical problems, including stomach pain and sleep disorders. When they need care, though, providers struggle to put the patient at ease and communicate effectively.

McIntosh’s current research includes looking at how school nurses can better care for the needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Both nurses and school personnel face unique challenges such as medication administration, addressing hygiene, and disruptive behaviors when developing and implementing health care interventions for individuals with ASD, McIntosh said.

In 2018, she helped organized a conference at Ball State for school nurses, focused on the numerous challenges school nurses and personnel face when providing services to students with ASD.

Beyond her research, she works one-on-one with children with autism, their teachers and parents, schools, and health care providers. Much of that work is done through her role as team member of the University’s multidisciplinary  Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder, which seeks solutions to the biggest challenges facing that community.

She uses her expertise to devise solutions to problems big and small. In one situation, she helped a child overcome his fear of water to take showers. In another, she helped a child overcome his sensitivity to brushing his own teeth.

In all of this work, she remembers the summons from her friend in need, and she determined to respond to that need for as many people as possible.

“The fact is one in 59 individuals has autism,” she said. “And it’s personal for me.”

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