When a parent first bring home their newborn from the hospital, our first goal is to understand our babies and their needs as soon as possible. It takes some time to figure out what our baby needs from the different cries we hear, or the behavior they exhibit.These can be a clue for a parent to know that their child might be sick , hungry or have pain.
So, how do we tell if our autistic child who is non-verbal, or barely able to communicate are sick, or in pain? What signs of illness will they exhibit?
First we have to eliminate any environmental factors that might have caused stress, or discomfort for our child. Once we know that these outside factors are not in place to cause any troubles for the child, we have to look for other signs that indicates any kind of sickness.
Unusual behavior, fussiness, crying, tantrum is part of most of autistic child’s life daily. We can not rely on these observation solely. Also, “not acting normal” is pretty normal for an autistic child as well.
The easiest way to determine if the non-verbal child is sick is if they have a fever, 100F or above. But checking a temperature is not always the best idea to determine if the child is sick. there are plenty of time when they are sick and they do not run a fever, or not yet developed any elevated temperature. Parents have to learn non verbal clues, or body languages to decode their child’s feelings.
Children develop some sort of daily routine at home, and at school.The parent, caregiver or teacher knows what is the child’s normal daily routine like during the day, and how they react to different type of stimuli or demand. This can be used as a baseline for a “normal daily living” for the child. If the child is acting more aggressive, withdrawn, or irrational than usual, that can be an indication that something is causing the child to be distressed rather is it a pain or sickness.
I like to share my personal experience with you all, and I am hoping you will do the same so we can learn from each other in order to help our precious children’s better.
My son has lots of allergies, therefore he gets lots of ear infections . He gets middle ear infection and he gets swimmers ears due to him loving to get wet any chance he gets. 🙂 He gets very fussy when he gets hit with allergy, or ear infection. Also, he gets lots of headaches as well, especially when the weather changes, and pressure changes. I learned all these from making my diary with him. It seem a bit extreme for some, but it worked for me and I was able to eliminate 75% of the mystery fussiness from our lives. I pushed all his teachers and therapist to teach him his body parts and to show us where it hurts him. Even if he can not say the word he can point to it, or touch it. For years it was my primary goal to achieve this skill for him, so I can better take care of him. Now, he is able to tell me if something hurts him. If he is in a great distress he comes to me and tells me “ouchy head etc.”, if he is fussy I prompt him with asking”where is ouchy, point to ouchy”. I personally think this is one of the greatest skill they can learn if they are able. When he went to public school and he was sick and was fussy he ended up on time out for the whole entire day of school, saying he was unmanageable. They could have called me and tell me, but I guess that was just too much effort to help this autistic child. The school he goes to now , the teachers acknowledge his needs, and eliminate every possible indicators before they send him to time out. I remember one day the principal called me to come in because Amin is very fussy and they think he doesn’t feel good he is holding his ears. When I arrived, he was sitting with the principle, who was rubbing his back and talking to him softly, while he was doing his tasks. Sure enough, he had double ear infection middle and external. He had all the right to be fussy and uneasy. That shows how important is to read these children’s behavior, so we can better understand, and serve them.
If the child struggles to make himself understood, the parent/caregiver should use picture cards to communicate with the child. These cards using pictures in place of words. One tip regarding of this type of approach is, to use two cards with different facial expressions. For example: holding head and smiling obviously mean that the child is not under any distress, holding head with a frown on the face means the child have a headache. To use these cards effectively, the child needs to know the emotions these cards are representing. If the child had not mastered this skill, you simply use the cards whenever you suspect that the child have pain, or doesn’t feel good. I used to carry cards with me, and whenever Amin fell and hurt something I showed him the appropriate card and reinforced it with words, as well as made him touch his body part that got hurt, or was in pain. It takes some time, but eventually they will be able to understand and put it in practice as well. Pictures can be used to establish an adequate communication between a caregiver and a non-verbal child. ( I posted a blog about this wonderful man from europe who developed a software free download with thousands of pictures available. May God bless him and his family for his generosity toward others)
The only way we can tell that a non-verbal autistic child is sick is we see multiple sings of illness with fever. If there is no fever, keep checking on your child to see if you can see any new indication about his illness.