Most people today may not fully understand what a vulnerable population is, or how it can affect certain individuals in their everyday lives. People that are classified into the vulnerable populations category have a very difficult time trying to function in public, work, school, and even the healthcare setting. Whether it be a communication barrier, a financial issue, or even an illness, it is the healthcare worker’s job to remain patient and understanding with these individuals. So, what exactly does it mean to fall into this category? Vulnerable populations are groups and communities at a higher risk for poor health as a result of the barriers they experience to social, economic, political and environmental resources, as well as limitations due to illness or disability (Nccdh.ca. n.d). Children, pregnant women, elderly people, malnourished people, and people who are ill or immunocompromised, are particularly vulnerable when a disaster strikes, and take a relatively high share of the disease burden associated with emergencies (same as above) Poverty – and its common consequences such as malnutrition, homelessness, poor housing and destitution – is a major contributor to vulnerability (Who.int. n.d). One disability that can cause major vulnerability to a group of individuals would be autism.Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today (Autism Speaks. 2013). It is a neurological disorder that continues to grow in the world today. There are several theories as to what can cause autism; however, nothing is set in stone. Autism seems to be more diagnosed in boys rather than girls; however, it is known to be more difficult to spot in girls. Girls and women with autism may go undiagnosed because doctors, teachers, parents and others often think of the condition as primarily affecting boys. Autism may also look different in girls than it does in boys. Girls may have fewer restricted interests and repetitive behaviors than boys do, and may have more socially acceptable types of interests (Zeliadt, N. n.d).Many individuals, as well as, families are affected by this condition. Having a loved one that is diagnosed with autism is a difficult thing. It can be a constant worry to the family about how to care for this person, especially when it comes to medical care. What exactly makes autism fall into the vulnerable populations criteria? People with autism are often rigid in their thinking due to a lack of understanding. They are limited in their ability to adapt in a variety of situations (Autism Awareness. 2019). There is often a learned dependency from years of therapy or having an aide at school or in the community. There is difficulty in the medical community to diagnose physical problems, mood disorders, psychosis and anxiety disorders. All of these factors make people on the autism spectrum vulnerable (Autism Awareness. 2019).Autism falls into a certain spectrum. These individuals can either be high functioning (mild autism) or low functioning, which is more on the severe side. An individual with low functioning autism may be a little easier to spot versus the individual with high functioning autism. Individuals that are on the higher side of the spectrum usually have an easier time functioning in social settings versus the lower functioning individuals. In the healthcare setting, children or adults with a higher functioning autism may be able to speak and interact with the doctors/nurses to a greater degree than children or adults with low functioning autism. Both high functioning and low functioning are very intelligent; however, they may have different ways of expressing certain emotions. Either way, there are several signs and symptoms that a person with autism may exhibit such as: rocking, flapping arms, not making eye contact, communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors/words, etc.As mentioned above, one challenge would be interaction. It is difficult for individuals with autism to know how to react in certain social settings. They are often unaware of how to make friends, how to carry on a conversation, or sometimes even the tone of their own voice. Personal space may also be an issue for them. They may also have an issue with their moods sometimes being unstable. One major challenge that individuals with autism have to overcome is their sensory issues. People on the autism spectrum may also be hyper sensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colors. For someone with hyper-sensitivity, sounds that others might not notice can be overwhelming or physically painful for someone on the spectrum and they may need to wear ear defenders to block out the noise (Autismspectrum.org.au. 2019).There are several different resources out there that can help individuals with autism in their everyday lives, as well as, the family. All of these resources can be found online. Each of these resources can be used for different things. Some are for coping strategies, education info, dietary, finances, etc. A few of the most well known would be:Autism SpeaksAutism VotesLearn the Signs Act Early (CDC)WrightslawAutism Resources for FamiliesSesame Street Autism ResourcesReduce the Noise: Help Loved Ones with Sensory Overload Enjoy ShoppingCDC Autism Links and ResourcesOperation Autism for Military FamiliesAcademic Accommodation ResourcesMoving with Special Needs Kids (Cedwvu.org. n.d) Being a nurse and working with individuals of a certain vulnerable populations may be difficult at times; however, it can also be very rewarding in the end. One thing that a healthcare worker has to remember is to always be patient. These individuals have a difficult enough time in their everyday lives; therefore, it is very important to remain calm in certain situations that may become stressful. There are several cues that could help a nurse identify a person who is classified into the vulnerable population category. For instance with autism, one thing most people with autism have in common is: flapping of arms, rocking back and forth, or having a certain show or toy that they are infatuated with. Other examples of other vulnerable populations would be: seeing a deaf person using sign language, seeing a blind person using a cane, seeing a single mother with her children, seeing a young individual who is having a baby, etc. All of these observations should help the nurse identify someone who is classified into a vulnerable population.Nursing is an amazing field that involves nurturing and advocating for your patient. Nurses are the ones doing the main assessments on patients; therefore, they may witness things that other health care providers do not. As a nurse, there are certain obligations. One of those obligations is mandatory reporting. Mandatory reporting means being legally required to report when certain situations are encountered. Federal and state laws require that certain individuals, particularly those who work in health care, with the elderly, with children, and other vulnerable populations, have an affirmative duty to report to a specified state agency when violence occurs against those populations (Cphins.com. n.d). What are some situations that may require reporting? A few of the major ones would be: child abuse, elderly abuse, neglect, abandonment. If you as a nurse fail to report an instance of violence when required to do so, you could face professional disciplinary action by the state board of nursing, a loss of any certifications you hold (e.g., certification as a school nurse), and criminal prosecution (usually a misdemeanor) (Cphins.com. n.d).In conclusion, vulnerable populations do continue to grow in our world today. It can be a very hard thing to witness at time. As a nurse, the main focus should be how to help and advocate for the patient. Nursing involves having patience and understanding when working with individuals in the vulnerable population. Autism is a neurological disorder, but it is also something that makes these individuals very special. Children and adults may have a difficult time trying to express themselves to others; therefore, it is important for the nurse to try and find other ways to communicate with these patients.
Table of Contents