How Routines Involving Medicine Impact My Son on the Autism Spectrum

This past winter was especially hard on my 7-year-old son. Subzero temperatures combined with coughing and sneezing classmates proved to be too much for his young immune system to handle, and more than once we found ourselves in the waiting room of the neighborhood clinic or, even worse, in the emergency room dealing with asthma related issues.

Each upper respiratory infection, bout of vomiting and nausea or asthma flare-up came with its own set of routine procedures that needed to be done to manage symptoms and alleviate discomfort. After so many times of having the same illness, my son quickly came to know what to expect.

“Yellow medicine, inhaler and apple juice please,” he’d say just before bedtime every night in anticipation of what was to come.

As his troubling symptoms subsided and his strength and playfulness began to return, his medication schedule changed. When it was apparent he had gotten over what was ailing him, I stopped giving him medicine altogether. But, like clockwork, he’d make the same requests for medicine he had made each night he was sick.

Sometimes, he’d ask with such determination that it seemed he indeed needed his medicine but when he asked with a big grin on his face or while jumping up and down on the bed and appeared to have no symptoms of illness at all, it became clear I needed more information about what he was feeling physically.

After asking him if his belly, throat and just about every other part of his body hurt with the help of pictures and feelings chart and getting a solid “no” from him every time, I knew he wasn’t sick but stuck in a routine that was no longer serving him.

My thoughts were confirmed by his special education teacher. She said children on the autism spectrum can often become attached to routines because they bring them comfort and can help them make sense of their world.

Instead of giving my son medicine when he asks for it, I’ve learned to pay attention to his body language to understand what’s happening to him.

If he is laying down more than usual, appears tired or doesn’t want to play with his favorite toys, these are strong signals he may not be feeling well. If he’s coughing, wheezing or has a runny nose, he may be at the beginning stages of a cold. I also listen to what he has to say. If he says “my belly hurts” I know he’s not feeling well.

Routines that involve giving my child medications are necessary but require me to use a great deal of caution so I don’t give my son the wrong medications or over-medicate him accidentally. Thanks to the guidance of experienced professionals, I’ve learned how to assess my son’s condition so he can get the treatment he needs when he needs it.

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