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Last month, we got Influenza A.

At least, I am pretty sure we did. Classic symptoms, straight from a medical textbook. Fever, respiratory symptoms, aches, fatigue. Typically, influenza will take anywhere from 7-10 days to resolve with some residual fatigue. It bites.

Illness and the Special Needs Child
And while being sick is in and of itself awful, when you have a child with autism and/or significant oral hypersensitivity and avoidance, there is the added level of suck-age that comes with illness. Because while we struggle on a daily basis with his feeding issues, when illness comes to the door everything goes from bad to worse.

Especially if we need to give medication.

Problems with Giving Medication

Question: How do you give medication to an orally averted ill autistic child with a language delay?

Answer: Very cleverly.

J-man is like a med-bloodhound. He knows it is there and there is no way it will pass his lips. This complete aversion to taking medication makes times of illness an exercise in either wrestling (and then cleaning up the post-medication-gagging vomit) or becoming a medication ninja. Find a way to get it in without him ever knowing.

Solutions to the Medication Problem
This, of course, goes against traditional advice. You are “suppose” to tell the child the truth. Explain the need for the medication. Take it seriously. But you know, after the all our fights, the meltdowns, the gag responses and vomiting from the gagging, I gave up on what you are “suppose” to do a long time ago. So here are my tips on how to be a medication ninja:

  1. First, speak to the pediatrician and pharmacist about getting medication in the highest concentration or the least frequent doses. If you can get the antibiotic in a small volume and once a day, that makes being a medication ninja easier. For example, you can get infant concentrated drops for acetaminophen from your pharmacist (not available over the counter anymore) in 80 mg/0.8 mls. That means that Jman only had to get down 2.4 mls to get a whole dose, versus 7.5 mls. Losing those extra 5 mls can be the difference between success and vomit.
  1. Talk to your pharmacist about getting your medication flavored in the mode most acceptable for your child. We go for orange, because we have the easiest time getting medications in him with either orange juice or chocolate ice cream. Believe it or not, chocolate ice cream and orange flavored medications work pretty well together.
  2. If you are going to mix your meds with a food or drink item, you must be very careful about making sure you keep the food/drink volume low enough to guarantee that the child will take it all, but high enough that the taste of the medication is properly diluted. It is a dance.
  3. Mix the medication in with a favorite food or drink. Cold numbs the taste buds, so ice cream works great. Just mix it in like you are at Cold Stone, stick it back in the freezer for a little while and then serve. There is nothing like a chocolate Tylenol ice cream cone. Other options that would never work for J-man but might for your child would be applesauce, pudding, salsa, whatever!
  4. Don’t use a hot food. Some medications can change their chemical composition and effectiveness with heat… which defeats the whole purpose!
  5. If you have concerns about getting it all in, consider offering a very salty food prior to the dosed juice. Thirst can be an excellent motivator.
  1. Keep an eye on the development of aversion to the food/juice of choice, and switch it up at the first sign of that association.
  2. You can purchase a pill crusher at any drugstore and crush pills into powder and add it into the food/drink of choice. Two words of caution, though: Some pills are time-released, so crushing the pill will change the bioavailability of the medication which could be a huge problem. You must discuss pill crushing with your pharmacist beforehand. Secondly, some pills are extremely bitter-tasting. Again, consult your pharmacist.
  3. Finally, if the volume is small enough, you can pour the dose down a straw that is in a favorite drink. That means with the first swig of the drink from the straw they will get the medication, and then a juice chaser! This tip allowed us to survive the bout with the flu.

It is very important that if you are going to be a medication ninja that you do so with consultation with your pediatrician and/or pharmacist. Not all medications go with all food or drink options, so those are conversations that you need to have with your trusted professionals. But with a little luck and ninja mojo, you too can successfully survive your next bout of the crud with your special one!