What is Pica and What Should You Do About It
Welcome to another Autism edition of The Cherry On Top.
Every Monday we are looking across the Autism spectrum at various aspects. We are keeping it simple, to the point, informative and hopefully, helpful for everyone. We're mostly discussing things we've experienced because we are not professionals per say. However, we've got over 10 years dealing with the symptoms and behaviour of two boys at different levels of the spectrum. So, we've got a pretty good arsenal on how to live happier with Autism.
Last week we touched on oral fixations. Letting you know the signs of potentially harmful behaviour and what to do about it.
We wanted to go a bit more in depth over pica because it's very serious and can cause illness and even death.
Firstly, if you are dealing with pica, let me tell you, we understand! It may seem like quite strange behaviour to others and it may even be difficult to see or perhaps even be brushed off due to the incredulity alone. I really needed to get my head around it before I started being more active with the call of action.
Pica is the consumption of non foods. In other words eating things that are not meant to be eaten. Our youngest had it bad when he was a toddler. Sand, rocks, spiders, insects, nuts, bolts, rusty screws (I know right?!) and especially and still things that are rubbery or squishy. We missed a lot of school because of illnesses attributed to pica and he ruined his teeth from chewing on rocks.
Extreme vigilance is necessary. It could save a life. We often had to save our child from choking. Make sure you learn how to do this if you also know someone with pica. Tip: What helped us the most was explaining each and every time that you may not eat things that are not food. Like I said, JJ was a toddler when it started and he was also 100% non verbal. We spoke clearly, without anger, attempted eye contact, nicely held his hand or shoulder and with as less words as possible told him that this was dangerous. Don't expect confirmation from the child. Especially, if they are non verbal, but continue to speak with them even if you think they are not listening.
It's equally as important to alert family, friends and caregivers or teachers about this condition.
It is unclear what causes pica. A dietary inefficiency perhaps. I would assume that the pica JJ experiences is because of the developmental disabilities attributed to his Autism. It may also have something to do with wanting to know what something tastes like and feels like in the mouth. That might sound strange to you and me. However, through our time with JJ we see that Autistic folks look at things a lot differently, on completely different levels and with an entirely different background experience.
If you are experiencing pica, be patient, but diligent. Alert family, friends and caregivers about the condition. Make sure you know how to prevent and help someone who is choking. Learn the signs of poisoning and by all means, do not take any chances. You must constantly watch for potential consumption of non foods. Be sure to address this behaviour EVERY time you witness it.
Vigilance and the constant reminder that this is not acceptable is necessary. It is dangerous. It is not healthy and could be deadly. These are what you must continuously remind the person of. Don't forget about the effectiveness of reverse positive reinforcement. Commend them for eating real food! It worked very well for us and JJ is so, so much better.
Occasionally, I'll remind him of his previous behaviour. "Hey, JJ. Do you remember when you used to eat sand and spiders? You don't do that any more do you? Because you can get really sick from that! I'm glad you don't do that any more. You are so smart." It may sound silly, but I do occasionally see a piece of rubber or foam missing from various objects.
Those are our tips for living with pica. I hope they were helpful and that you'll join us again next week when we look at tools to help pay attention in the class.
We wish you success!