Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What A Chocolate Button Can Do

Like most autistic kids - and probably alot of toddlers in general - my sons eating preferences tend to be very narrow. He does not like vegetables or meat. The only way I can get him to eat any of those are if I chop them into tiny, almost mashed pieces, and mix them with rice. Or I can hide them in a pasta sauce - red only. He will reluctantly eat sliced sausage, fish fingers and chicken nuggets too. And of course, chips.

Anyway, due to his relative fussiness, he had very low blood iron levels. Low enough that his red blood cells had begun changing shape, and we had to put him on an iron supplement. Getting him to take his 'medicine' was a nightmare to begin with. After trying many gentle ways of coaxing, bribing, explaining, etc, he finally had to be held down and the syringe forced between his teeth to get the medicine in. Fortunately for us, he didn't spit it out once it was in his mouth, he just swallowed whatever was there.

As you can imagine, this was not only distressing for him, but for me too. I had to manage him by myself when hubby was at work, and it was so difficult. I hated it. I would almost be in tears myself when it was time for his medicine. I got so fed up with the trauma of it all that I became determined to find a way to make 'medicine' more pleasant for him. (After all, there will be times when antibiotics or other medicines are needed too, so the easier the process, the better! There's nothing worse than trying to force an already sick and grumpy kid to take his medicine when he doesn't want to!)

The solution was so simple, I can't believe it didn't occur to me sooner. I began to reward him with a chocolate button immediately after he'd taken his medicine. It stopped the tears and helped him forget the unpleasant part of the experience. He soon began to look for his chocolate button when he'd taken his dose, and after a few days, he stopped fighting me when it was time for medicine. Now, when I say 'time for medicine!' he runs to the couch and lays himself down all nice and ready. No trouble and no trauma! He opens his mouth willingly and takes his 'red medicine' easily. Then he looks for his chocolate button :) This is great! But when he has to take a different kind of medicine, it's still a bit of an issue. He knows it's not the 'red' one, so he doesn't want it. Regardless of that fact though, it has become easier to administer any other medicines to him because of that chocolate button.

I still didn't like having to give him the supplement. It made him poop alot. Three to four times a day sometimes! The supplement contained a mild laxative to counter the effects of iron in the system - anyone who has ever taken an iron supplement will know that iron causes constipation! But I think the laxative worked too well for my boy. I often wondered whether he was getting much nutrition at all with the amount that just went through him.

In the first few months, we were vigilant with his supplement, but as I made some adjustments to his diet we began to ease off a bit. In recent weeks, he has only had a dose when his diet for the week didn't include any red meat at all. (Yes, that does happen sometimes!)

So, all of that background to give you this little bit of good news: His last blood test showed his iron levels were excellent and the supplement is definitely no longer needed. Wonderful! It means his diet can now carry the recommended amount of iron in it, and I can now shift my focus to other areas - like improving his calcium and overcoming his sensory issues with meat and vegetables in general.

When the paedie announced that his iron levels were great, I just couldn't wipe the smile off my face. It was there all day, I was so pleased. Even hubby came home to say how happy he was about it too. These small victories just mean so much. They are what keep us going and encourage us to believe that change is happening, even though we might not see it right now.

PS: If you want to know what I did to adjust his diet, all I did was separate the calcium intake from iron, and add in more vitamin C when he did have iron. For example, omit the cheese on his spaghetti bolognaise and give him a chopped orange afterwards. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption while calcium inhibits it. Unfortunately, that meant that some of his calcium had to be dropped from his diet as there was limited opportunities to fit it in, but I don't have to worry about that any more. Now that his iron levels are acceptable, I can reintroduce the extra calcium anytime, and whatever iron he gets will be enough to carry through :).


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