Dealing with Pica in the child with Autism.

Dealing with ‘Pica’ in a child with Autism.
Today I’d like to draw attention to and create awareness of a little known Autism trait called Pica. Pica is described as an overwhelming craving for anything that is deemed un-eatable. It can be dirt, or soap or ice or grass any item that you would not ordinarily eat. It is very common in children with Autism, especially classic Autism like Jay has and is made harder to deal with by the fact that the child often has no understanding of the danger and risk in eating such items. They also have overwhelming sensory urges to smell touch and taste anything that has scent, a specific colour or a texture they need to explore both a tactile and sensory way. We saw Pica in Jay when he was three, and we are seeing it again now. We have caught him eating grass, attempting to eat plants which so far careful supervision has prevented, soap and hand gel. Soil and leaves have been attempted too. It may seem really messed up to people who do not understand Autism, but when you truly understand it from the child’s point of view it becomes quite clear why they do it. Firstly, they are incredibly sensory. The need to explore things in a sensory way is overwhelming. Secondly the child who has classic Autism and delays and a significant learning difficulty such as Jay will not have the cognitive ability to reason out why it is not okay. They are driven by their sensory system which is scrambled and the way it receives messages is different to neuorotypical persons. PICA can be an Anxiety thing, a way for the child to calm their nervous system. It can be linked to OCD behaviours and certainly is jn Jay. Over this long period of unsettled and immense change, Jay has held it together, only for it now to have become processed in his brain. In response to the ongoing stress and anxiety caused by this 3 months, Jay has developed ways of coping mentally with the changes he sees. Pica is one of the ways he is trying to cope with and process this. Anxiety over the changes he has seen especially in school, has led to Obsessional Compulsive Disorder returning to Jay and in particular a need to say the same phase over and over all day long. The phrase is repeated in school and at home and in his local environment and is used in conjuction with stimming, in Jay’s case flapping his hands whilst making noises. Jay is using a form of speech called Echolalia where the Autistic will repeat parrot fashion phrases all day as a means of regulating their over active nervous system. We have also discovered that Jay has been writing in to his search engine phrases such as words which reflect how he is feeling. I found in his history he had written the words “sad Saturday” This is because he starts each Saturday with an anxious meltdown and has done since September last year. He also wrote ” I feel sad” and put the words screaming child into the search. This shows me clearly that he needs help with understanding his feelings emotions and his meltdowns. Jay is a happy boy but he must be seeking answers for himself as to why sometimes he has screaming meltdowns and feels sad or angry. I have decided to go back to a feelings board to help support this and I intend to watch him like a Hawk whenever he is around any item he can eat which is inappropriate or harmful to ingest. This has been a hard time for us all but yo Autistic children and adults it’s doubly bad as they actually do not understand d anything about it and that is way worse than knowing as we all know why, but they do not. This leads to high levels of anxiety and behaviours such as pica and ocd getting worse in response to their enhanced emotional state. They need to be protected and supported through this difficult time.

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