A major illness can be a terrifying experience with any child and so much more with special needs children. Ever since my son experienced a vague illness that landed him in the pediatric ICU for three days, I have been searching for answers on this topic. Mainly, because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right things while he was recovering. For a while, I stopped researching until just recently we encountered a life -threatening condition when Amin stopped breathing again. So I decided to write down my experiences here, hoping that some of you who read this post will send in some much-needed information to share.
Most of us experience feeling “down” after illnesses, regardless if this is a major event, or just a common cold. Autistic children can experience the same feelings, but we might not being aware of it due to their poor or non-existent verbal skills. The only giveaway in this issue can be their change of attitude and dealings with every day tasks. The recuperation phase can be challenging for an autistic child, so it is important to give that child all the love and support to aid them in this process. Also, since this period can be difficult, try to approach it slowly, and take it one step at a time.
The first step on their road to recovery is when the doctor gives them the green light to resume their normal activities. Help the child understand that resuming their physical and mental activity might take a little longer than they like. Allow them to get plenty of rest when needed, and encourage them to try certain tasks several times in order to master them, and feel comfortable performing them again. Nutrition is another important aspect to consider. During the illness they either cannot eat for different reasons, or they have no appetite. During the recovery phase a parent should offer nutritious food for the child that is familiar to them, and appealing at the same time. Do not force them to eat it, but try to encourage it.
Amin’s recent event took a toll on all of us, not just him. All three of us had the flu when he had his “episode”. This time he was not on the breathing machine, after his respiration resumed he was able to breathe well. Despite the fact that he wasn’ t intubated, after he recovered (about 4 days later) he still became very clingy. My days were filled with him holding my hands almost the entire day and night, not allowing me to do anything. If I left him alone for any reason, he started crying uncontrollably. Darkness was a big NO NO for him. If for any reason a light was not on where he wanted to go, he started screaming as well.
This type of behavior can be very frustrating if we do not know why it is happening, but I had some ideas and I allowed him to lead me to what he is feeling comfortable with. Now we are on day 7, and his obsessive behavior is starting to subside somewhat. We still get up at 4 Am because he needs to calm himself down in a rocking chair, and who is the best to rock him?… mommy.
Also, I resumed his daily schedule as much as possible at this time. We took a very short walk which helped all three of us to get some sun and get us out of the house finally. We try to eat in our regular scheduled times now, and we have solid food on our menu finally instead of chicken soup. I know that this obsessive attachment to me can last for a while with him since he is older now, and he does remember what was going on during his respiratory crisis. As much as we try to assure him that he is much better now, he will need plenty of time to come to the realization that things are somewhat back to normal.
As hard as it is now for me to recover from my own physical illness, I have to be on top of this issue to provide him the most understanding environment. It can certainly be difficult to accommodate all his needs while attending to my other sick child, but a little bit of understanding, love and care goes a long way with Amin. Yesterday, I didn’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel, but today I finally got a glimpse of it. By God’s mercy, we are getting better, we are together and we learned something that helped us understand Amin and his behavior better in this circumstance.
I ask you all out there, if you have any practices that work for you with your autistic child during their illnesses, or in their recovery phase that you please share it here, so we may better serve our special children.