Special Needs Parenting Part Two: Pica

3 Feb

As I prepare to write this post, I’m reminded why I gave my blog this title in the first place. The GPS in my Subaru was constantly giving me wrong directions, bad advice, and I think possibly trying to kill me. It would tell me to go the wrong way down one way streets, it would tell me I hadn’t reached my destination yet and to keep driving while I was parked in the parking lot and ‘keep driving’ would have meant ‘destroy Fred’s apartment’, and it would often tell me I was driving in the Chicago River. The best was one time, as I drove on Lower Wacker Drive, the GPS got so confused it shuddered a few times, then showed my car slowly but surely driving into Lake Michigan. So I joked with my friends that, one day, my biography would be called “Even the GPS was lost.”

But the title works because it’s not that only the GPS was lost, it’s that even the GPS was lost – a crucial distinction. I am totally and utterly lost as well. Life has thrown me so many curveballs, fastballs, and even screwballs (or are those not a real thing?), that I am left standing dazed at home plate.

Daniel has special needs. This is not news. This is the kid that, at age 3, had such an epic meltdown in a restaurant that another patron approached and kindly asked if he was autistic. She was a lot less understanding when we told her “No, he’s just… hangry.” (Probably because that word hadn’t been invented yet.) This is the kid so sensitive to light and sound that a fire drill at school will render him completely inconsolable for a long stretch of time. This is the kid who still grips his pencil with his whole fist. This is the kid that says ‘wibs’ for ‘ribs’, ‘da’ for ‘the’, and ‘offer’ for ‘other’.

And this is the kid who has been eating things that aren’t food since he was a baby. I couldn’t figure out why large chunks of chenille were disappearing from his blanket when he was about 1 year old, and kept thinking the blanket was just getting wrecked in the washing machine – until I caught him eating it. He gnaws on his sleeves, his collars, his buttons, pencils, erasers, woodchips, legos, toy car tires, and the rails of his bed. When I would bring it up, his pediatrician kept saying he would grow out of it.

Last year, at the suggestion of his school, we finally took him for an evaluation. As we sat in the office, he picked up pieces of road salt that had drifted into the office and put them in his mouth. The therapist right away said, “Do you know what pica is?”

Actually, I do. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a psych major in college and took the Child Psychology class. Pica was discussed in the textbook, among other disorders. In the simplest terms, it’s when a kid eats lots of things that aren’t food. And I remember thinking, “That is super crazy!” The textbook said it was often due to a nutritional deficiency and thus easily treated, but could also be a behavioral problem.

Guess which type Daniel has.

I’ve been afraid to do any more research, I have been too afraid to reach out to or look for other pica parents.. I’ve been too afraid to do much of anything, aside from continue with behavioral therapy and occupational therapy to try to help him break the habits. I don’t want to research or reach out because I already know the worst case scenario: too much non-food items get ingested, they accumulate in the stomach/intestines/bowels and surgery is required.

So you can imagine the heart attack I had this past Wednesday when we thought that was what we were facing. Daniel had eaten 14 tires off his Mario Kart racers, and so I told him to wear the necklace that’s supposed to help with the chewing. He was really pissed at me for telling him that – the other kids at school make fun of it. So he ate the necklace.

That was last Saturday. By Wednesday he was still throwing up. I took him to Urgent Care, where he helpfully threw up again. They examined it and found black stuff, and said the things he ate might still be stuck. They said he needed to go to the ER right away to make sure there was no blockage.

My husband and I didn’t freak out. I texted my mom, my sister, my boss, and Daniel’s godmother and told them what was going on. Everyone was supportive and wonderful. My friend asked what she could do – I joked to light a candle to the patron saint of pica, if there is one.

We got him to the ER, still sick, and waited for ages for him to be seen, and then for him to have a x-ray, and then for them to interpret the results. (And the whole time he was hangry!) The report came back: no blockage. I finally drew a deep breath and felt my heart start beating again. The doctor literally told us “The pica was just a red herring,” which, of course, made me think of this:

Tim Curry = the best.

We took our Little Dude home, gave him some Zofran, and all was well.

Except now I’m back to where I started: feeling completely lost. How on earth do I deal with this? How do I help my son? Should I do more research, search out other pica parents? What if this happens again? What if it’s worse next time? Why is my car driving in the Chicago River?

So here’s what I’m asking of all of you who read this: if you have any resources, any information, any advice, any suggestions, please let me know. I need help with this one and I don’t know where to begin.

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