Getting Children to Take Their Supplements & Medications

take-medA common feature among children who suffer from sensory processing issues is their reluctance to take the very preparations that would help attenuate such disturbances, and the will to get their way.

Here are some tips and observations, gathered over the years at the Child Development Center of America, that may be of some use as a parent attempts to cajole junior into ‘taking his medicine.’

B-twelve lollipops simply don’t cut it. There are various strategies for those who won’t take subcutaneously administered methyl-B12, from a middle-of-the-night sneak attack, to an early morning assault. Expensive topical anesthetic agents are rarely required or helpful. Squeamish parents may hire a nurse, or ask a friend or relative. In school, we practiced on fruit. Occasionally, there have been parents who take their child to the doctor, until they become more comfortable.

Dermal creams can be an excellent alternative. Naltrexone administered in this manner may alleviate sensory issues and enable more generalized compliance. Magnesium, epsom salt baths and other agents may be quite helpful. On the other hand, every supplement does not work in a cream form, due to its composition and absorption.
This is a propitious time to mention the use of essential oils. Calming to the mind and body, these may be just the ticket for getting a mildly oppositional youngster to comply.

Many families mix preparations with preferred liquids and foods. Should a parent risk a small volume of casein or other forbidden fare? Frankly, occasionally, that may be the better option. On the other hand, some children may then refuse taking even that ONE liquid that they consider acceptable. Starting with very low doses of the offending agent may work.
We recommend oil-based products for the like; e.g. almond butter or mustard, if the supplement comes in that form. Applesauce is good for gloppy goodies.

Some children may respond to mechanical strategies, such as practicing with candy, drinking fluid first, or placing the pill in just the right part of the tongue. Another strategy involves the use of a pill swallowing cup. A non-scientific review of our experience at The Center has not found those of any real value. They look scary, and we couldn’t give them away.

Ask the occupational, behavioral or physical therapist to assist in the learning process. To the extent that the professional recognizes – and believes in – the accompanying improvements for their job, they should embrace their role in assisting the process. In a similar vein, alternative techniques practiced by chiropractors and reflexologists might include their additional expertise in helping a child acquire this skill.

Social stories may be a great aid for certain children. An artistic parent may even be able to create one (digital or analog) with your child’s pictures and voices, enabling the child to view the process and diminish anxiety. The propensity for affected children to perseverate on youtube videos might provide an opportunity to encourage an understanding and acceptance of this technique.

Most parents have already exhausted the role of bribery. Often, families have found this strategy of limited benefit after a lifelong pursuit of compliance in one or another less-daunting behaviors. From this perspective, and towards this end, this could be utilized as one of the ONLY times that your child gets the iThing.

Make sure that the child is on the most healthful diet. For parents who believe that the foods their children eat have little to affect on behavior, you should at least give a try. The end point might be as ‘simple’ as your child’s understanding and compliance.

For certain preparations, there is always the rectal route. The child may accept that oral is preferable, if they don’t bite and run for the hills (and lock the door).
Sometimes this one can backfire – literally.

Develop the right attitude. With autism, the senses of smell, taste and texture are involved. Oral-motor functioning is weak. There are medical reasons for patient refusal. One inconsequential substance may be misperceived as awful, however another foul-smelling product may not even be noticed. Plus, some therapeutic protocols may increase aggressive behaviors for brief periods. For most children, reasoning is of little value. “Because mommy says so!”

Truth be told, only ~1% refuse just about everything. Such children won’t be told, taught, or tricked. The parent has to decide how important the supplement, how likely it is to work, and weigh the consequences of continued non-compliance. But, getting a child to accept only one or two of these preparations may jump start a pathway to increased compliance in other endeavors, as well.

I never had a juvenile arthritis patient, or child with diabetes or other significant malady, where the parent didn’t bite the bullet and do whatever is necessary. To the extent that the practitioner and parent believes in results, the deed will be done.

As always, knowledgeable and experienced parents are invited to offer their stellar suggestions…

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Brian D. Udell MD
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