Riley’s comfort experts: How child life specialists help patients cope

Reason to Dance, Reason for Hope

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s a special group of people at Riley Hospital for Children who are making kids’ visits there more enjoyable. Whether it’s for a quick appointment or a longer stay, child life specialists are there to help kids cope.

Child Life is completely donor-funded. The program has grown over the years as donors have recognized the value of having these specialists for kids going through treatments, procedures, and surgeries, but still there is still often just one child life specialist for dozens of patients on any given day. That’s why they’re asking you to support their efforts.

If you see a group of Riley’s Child Life Specialists, you’d likely mistake them for a moms group play-date. And maybe that’s the point. Many of them are moms who spend their days guiding parents and patients through the process of Riley Hospital for Children often through play.

“Each child is coming from a very different background, different family dynamics, different health care encounters, so we try to assess all of that and develop these coping plans to really help kids through the experience, because each kid is going to need something different,” Megan Ali said.

Ali has been a Riley Child Life Specialist for more than 14 years. She’s also a mom of two children.

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“It really impacts me as a child life specialist. It helps you see a bigger picture. It helps you relate to the parents. You may not know exactly what they’re going through. We’re all on different journeys, but we’re all parents at the end of the day,” Ali said.

On top of her training and wisdom as a mother, she’s also been a patient parent as well.

“My own son, after his surgery, as soon as he got into the playroom, he was a different kid,” Ali said.

Certainly she would be the only child life specialist to also have a Riley kid at home, right?


At least five of the child life specialist on staff have been on both sides of the Riley red wagon.

Amanda Banker is another, who works with children after inpatient surgeries.

“Let’s say he needs a poke right here, then I hold him like this and then he’s nice and secure right there, right?” Banker said holding her son on her lap.

The child life specialists use play, breathing, visual distractions and more to prepare kids for what they are about to go through and often are present during procedures as well. Banker hopes her interaction with patients lasts much longer than their stay at the hospital.

“A lot of Riley patients are not visiting for one visit and all of these lifelong coping skills they can take into future visits. And over time they’ll have their own little toolbox of things they have inside of them,” Banker said.

Donations are always accepted for Child Life, but there is also an event happening in one month to support the program.

Reason to Dance, Reason for Hope is a “Dancing with the Stars”-style event happening March 13. Megan Ali will be performing and so will News 8’s Nina Criscuolo.