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The problem with hiding medicine in food.

I was reading a post recently on an autism parenting support group. A parent was trying to get their child to take medicine. They listed the several things they had done ranging from melting chocolate and putting the medication into it, mashed potato, yoghurts and cream cheese and putting it in drinks to name a few. Sadly their child still was not taking the medicine but the problem had grown further as they had also now started to refuse all the food items the medicine had been “hidden” in. There were various responses from other parents who were in similar situations and some who had tried their concoctions themselves and couldn’t taste the medicine.

Many autistic people are very susceptible to alterations in flavour, texture and smell meaning that we can detect even the slightest of changes. A negative experience can be long lasting and even life long. Often pharmaceutical guides suggest using yoghurt or apple sauce to put medication. Danielle's son used to eat yoghurt everyday and hasn't touched one for 3 years after she tried putting medicine in one. That was the first and last time Danielle used what she would call an 'essential daily food item' to try and get Kiddo to take medicine.

This is where parenting autisic children has an additional level because neurotypical parenting hacks like putting medicine in food don’t work and often cause more damage than good. Getting the balance right when encouraging the taking of medicine is a fine line. Your child needs to eat but they also need medication.

There is no guarantee to solve this dilemma but there are things to try. Whether or not these work will depend on your child's level of understanding. Here are a few ideas:

1. If your child can engage in conversation (written or verbal) try being honest with them. We can underestimate our children and often the truth is what they really need. This approach may take time and the child shouldn't be pushed to process this, meaning this may not be suitable for emergency medications.

2. Use a social story or fictional story of another child to show how it can be hard to take medication but it can be done and it is worth all the trying. See link in comments/bio for one of our examples.

3. Choose a non essential food item and show the child that there is medicine in it so they expect the food to taste or feel different. For example, icing/frosting. Danielle's son knows that pink icing means there is medicine inside it (he chose the colour) and cream icing means there isn't any medicine inside it. Danielle NEVER changes this and Kiddo feels confident that he knows what he will taste and feel with each colour.

4. Try a pill cup. Charlotte's son, after a lot of practice, now uses these very successfully. He takes a lot of pills and this was an essential skill for him to learn.

5. Practice with empty capsules. You can buy different sized empty capsules on amazon. Start small and work your way up to the size the child will be taking. This way you don't waste any medicine whilst practicing. (NOTE: It's often suggested that Tic Tacs are used to practice with. This is a great idea but be careful if your child doesn't like the taste of them as they may assume all medicine tastes that way).

6. For each medicine use a different non essential food. This is because the medicine and food will become one thing to your child. For example, Danielle can't use pink icing for any other medicine except the one Kiddo took first. It's not just pink icing with medicine in it anymore, it's "pink icing" which means a certain type of medicine. His milk has always had melatonin in. He won't drink milk without it. You can use the food that has a range of colours for different medicines but do not use healthy foods. If your child has to stop taking a medicine then you may well lose that healthy food with it.

These are all just ideas and there is no easy answer, but if you keep trying you will eventually find a way 😊

See link for social story example.

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