My autistic child wont take medicine! What should I do?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a type of developmental issue that affects one’s ability to interact, relate, communicate, play and even learn.
Research indicates that at least one in every 68 children is born with this condition and 58 percent of children with autism rely on some kind of medicine. A lot of people may not like that latter statistic, but the simple fact is medicine often plays a significant role in dealing with certain conditions that come with autism including - Anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity.
With these statistics in mind, it will be likely that a lot of parents of autistic children will come across this problem of refusal to take medicine. Even if your child is not dependent on regular medicine, not being able to administer medicine quickly when they are sick will result in more stress for both you and your child. That's why we wanted to write this article and give some ideas for how you could deal with this situation better.
The realities of parenting children with autism
The fact that your child has autism may be baffling for a lot of parents at first. But after you accept it, you then need to learn how to deal with the fear and confusion that comes with it. It can be difficult to diagnose autism since the signs and symptoms normally vary from one patient to another. Once you learn that your child has autism (through an assessment from a professional), there are a number of things that you will need to keep in mind and these include:
i. Understanding your child
Autism requires that you understand your child's behavioral changes and inconsistencies. To achieve this, you may need to engage your child in as many activities as possible. When parents consistently monitor their children, they understand what the child likes and dislikes including the child’s sensory sensitivities which are very crucial when it comes to giving your child food and administering medicines. This can help you decide which methods are suitable for your child.
ii. Developing positive reinforcement mechanisms
Positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage your child to continue desirable behaviours. Positive reinforcement mechanisms may include praising your child when he or she does something right.Giving them that high five for a successful moment or milestone.
iii. Developing a schedule and being consistent
Another discovery about children with autism indicates that they like consistency and you need to have a plan on how you engage your child. For instance, you can have a schedule on when to give your child food or even medicine, and once they adapt to this, you are less likely to have trouble with them.
What happens when your child refuses to take medicine?
You might think that you have conquered the condition then suddenly; your child refuses to take prescribed drugs.
At this point, you will probably be even more confused and wonder what to do next. This is, however, typical behavior for children with autism - They may completely refuse to take certain (or maybe all) medicine; whether solid or liquid (even after disguising it in water).
When your child develops issues when it comes to taking medicine, this might not be as big of an issue as you may initially think. You will, however, need to understand that children with autism are extremely sensitive to peculiar smells, tastes, and texture and this is normal. When you have a good idea about your autistic child, this will help you work through this situation.
One of the most important things for parents of children with autism is learning the child's behavior. This will come in handy in many situations. There are a number of options you can choose from if your child refuses to take medicine.
Please note, this article is designed to give you a starting point to guide you. To show examples of what you could do in this situation. If the problem persists, you should seek out a suitably qualified professional to give you their full insight.
How to get your child to take medicine?
When you notice that your child only keeps medicine in his or her mouth and waits for the right moment to spit it out, then you have to come up with strategies that make the child take medication. The worst you can do is to force the medicine into the child's mouth: Chances are that the child will gradually develop a negative attitude towards the medicine or end up vomiting every time you administer the drug. Worst still, this would probably be close to child abuse in many countries! So, clearly simply forcing your child to take medicine isn't the way to go!
The most important thing is to remain calm and work through the problem systematically.
Here are some of the tricks and tips you can use should you discover that your autistic child refuses to take medicine.
Helping your child to take liquid medicine
Try mixing the drug with food or a drink
This is the most common strategy to help your child take "yucky" medicine. If you settle on this method and it proves to be effective, you need to do it right. Seeking advice on the types of foods that you can mix the medicine with can play a critical role because certain foods may make the medicine ineffective. You can call your pharmacist and ask for advice on the foods that you can mix the medicine with.
Another thing that you need to understand is how to make the mixture tasty. When you turn the medication into a odd tasting cocktail of flavours, you will be defeating the purpose and only making the situation worse! Most brands of children's medicines will have a cherry/ strawberry or bubblegum flavor.
This means, for instance, you can mix the drug with either ice cream or yogurt. The flavour profile of the medication and the food you are mixing it with need to be a good fit. Also think about the proportions you are mixing. By getting a good mix, you will not only make the medicine tasty, you will be giving your concoction the best chance of success. Think of yourself as the gourmet of medication/ food mixing!!
Most importantly, you need to make sure that your child takes the entire dose of the mixture if you want the medication to be effective. So make it yummy in some way! Be creative!
Get the right flavor of medicine
Pharmacists can do more than just add an ordinary grape of cherry flavor to a liquid drug. You have an option of choosing from different flavors such as lemon, root beer or lemon. If you notice that your child does not like a particular flavor of medicine, you can talk to your pharmacist to get the right flavor added. You will probably be surprised what is available these days!
Coat the tongue beforehand
Some people give their children a sweet drink after the child takes medicine. This can be a good strategy, but you may want to think more about the thickness of what you give your child. For instance, if you give your child some honey before administering medicine, the honey will leave a sweet taste on the child’s mouth and make it easy for the child to not only swallow but also enjoy the medicine they have to take. Whereas a drink will be much more short lived in your child's mouth. Drinks could be good for washing medicine down, but not necessarily for taking away the bad flavour.
Numbing the medicine with ice or chilling it
Quite a number of things taste better when cold and liquid medicines are not excluded in this case. When you encounter challenges when administering medication to your child, try putting it inside the fridge or pouring it on some ice cubes and wait until it tastes better. Alternatively, you can cool your child’s taste buds, and this will dull the idea of a flavor altogether. When your child sucks some ice cube before taking medicine, he/she might notice that the medicine does not taste so bad after all. Maybe they can eat a portion of ice cream before they are asked to take medicine. Or simply have an iced drink beforehand.
You have just given your child some liquid medicine, but it happens that the child gaggles on it and finally spits it out. You can prevent this by aiming at particular parts of the mouth when giving your child medicine. You can, for example, squirt along the lower part of the child's cheek and towards the corner of the mouth. This may seem like forcing the medicine into your child's mouth but what this trick does is it will help make the medicine bypass most of the taste buds. However, to make this tip effective, you need to use slow and small quirts which are easier to swallow and ensure that the child is upright to prevent choking. For this technique you will need some kind of (clean) pipette.
Helping your child take pills or capsules
Pills may be easier to take compared to liquid medicine since they don’t normally end up coating much of the tongue. Also, when giving children pills, there are only two options: They either swallow the pill or spit it all out. You, however, need to avoid forcing or pressurising the child to take the pill, especially children with autism - They might end up hating the pills. This could be something that influences their view of medicine for the rest of their lifes. Tread with caution!
The float method
Teaching your child how to swallow a pill and what the child needs to understand when swallowing the pill is critical. In many scenarios, children with autism freak out when it comes to taking pills. In fact this is not exclusive to autistic children, a good percentage of all children will act like this.
The problem with taking a dry pill is that the mouth often runs out of saliva, and the pills end up sticking on the tongue too much. Even as an adult, I have had this sensation. So, this is not helpful when trying to encourage an autistic child to take a pill!
This dryness can be tricky if the pill is only covered with a small layer of flavor. To combat this, you can try making the pill float in the child's mouth by first giving the child his or her favorite drink then putting the pill in the mouth. When you make the pill float in the child's mouth, you will be avoiding it getting stuck as well as all the gaggling and panic that may come with it.
Opening or crushing the pill or capsule then stirring
You may find yourself in a situation where your child refuses to take pills and liquid medicine is not an option. In such a case, you can try crushing the pill or opening it and then making a mixture of it with your child's favorite drink. You can also crush or open the pill or capsule then mix it with your child's favorite food. Again, you have to be cautious on the types of drinks and food that you mix the medicine with. Make sure the two are a good flavour match for starters. And, it would be a good idea to ask about this when given the medicine by a pharmacist or doctor. Just to be on the safe side.
The problem with crushing pills into food or drinks, is that your child has to finish the whole portion to be sure they have had all of the medication. Therefore, when following this method, it would be better to try and use smaller amounts of food or drink.
Simply train your child to take pills
Some parents won't like the idea of hiding pills in food, for a number of reasons. Another approach could be to actually teach your child to swallow pills.
Of course, you cannot easily or safely do this with real medicine.To start you want something smaller. At this stage you could use a small bean or piece of rice. Teach your child to put it on their tongue and swallow with a swig of water. Over time, you can gradually increase the size of this practise object. You can demonstrate how to do this together with your child, by modeling for them to follow. Make sure you explain clearly why you are doing this with them, so as not to cause further confusion or anxiety!
Any general tips?
So far, this article has had a lot of tips for parents regarding the actual physical act of taking a pill. Making this process as simple and seamless as possible. So you may be wondering, are there any other general tips to consider? Well, yes there are!
Praise your child
Make sure that after every time your child takes medicine without fuss, that you praise them. Tell them how well they have done and how you are proud of how brave they were. If your child sees you are sincere, this could have a great impact on your child and will encourage them to behave in a similar way the next time medicine is administered. You could use a physical reward, but try not to make this anything too big! We don't want to be bribing our children to take medicine! This is especially the case if your child has to take medicine regularly.
Be a good role model
Even if you do genuinely hate taking medicine yourself, never show this to your child. In fact make sure to be in the same area as them when you successfully take medicine. Your child will naturally look up to you as the parent, and will likely follow your lead. This is a great opportunity to set a good example.
Use the power of distraction
In the time leading up to taking medicine, you can help your child to take part in an activity or game that they really enjoy. About halfway through this, tell your child they need to take medicine. This could become a part of your regular medicine taking routine if it works well, so keep this in mind when choosing the activity!
The motivation they will have to continue the enjoyable activity will hopefully encourage your child to take the medicine faster or with less fuss.
Relate it to what your child likes
You can use your child's interests to make the medicine taking process more fun. For example, you could buy a medicine box with your child's favourite cartoon character on it (you could make it yourself if you are creative!). You could buy a medicine taking cup with the same character. In fact anything you use to take medicine(like a spoon, for example), could be changed to something that your child likes, taking their attention away from the "yucky" medicine!
The wrap up!
Thanks for reading our article on autistic children refusing to take medicine. It is a real pain point for many parents and we hope we could be of some help!
It can be really painful for a parent to see their sick child not getting the help they need from medication. But try not to let any of this pain or potential frustration come out in front of your child.
Stay calm, get to know your child and try some of the tips we suggest. Every child has their own unique traits and quirks, so we can't guarantee instant success. But with some perseverance and trial and error with these methods, we believe you can at least improve the situation.
As previously stated, just be very careful when you want to start mixing medicine with food or crushing pills. Consult your doctor or pharmacist and explain your situation. They can guide you how to do this in a safe way, and may be able to give you additional tips as an added bonus!
As always, if you have any of your own advice and tips on this subject matter, we would love to hear all about it. If you tried the methods detailed and have had little success we want to know. Please use the comments section below to post and get the opportunity to discuss with other like minded parents.
Being a parent of an autistic child can be challenging. I recently reviewed an excellent magazine called Autism Parenting Magazine. You should go check it out, as it could be a great way to get into a good community based around autism.