“What IS throw-up? Is it yucky like poop?”
Having only had the stomach flu once in his life as a toddler, Brooks managed to get it twice this past month. And as his expressive language skills improve and his thoughts get more organized, he has been “entertaining” my husband and me with his attempts to figure it all out.
Because sensory issues are a component of autism, we never quite know how Brooks experiences being sick. When he was much younger, he was sometimes able to block out pain the same way he blocked out people. His pediatrician was once perplexed at Brooks’ response to getting a shot—not only did he refrain from crying, he showed no sign of any discomfort! Although you could argue that this is a valuable skill, the downside is that he’s sometimes not very in touch with his own body. For instance, he can easily overeat and not stop until he finally gets a bad stomach ache. We suspect that because he doesn’t actually feel full, he doesn’t stop eating sooner. As a result, he complains that his stomach hurts and in the same breath asks for more chocolate ice cream.
Brooks has clearly outgrown the worst of his sensory issues with respect to getting sick (we no longer have marathon sessions to force medicine down his throat), but my husband and I still often find ourselves saying to the doctor: “Here’s what we think might be hurting him…”
When Brooks was sent home from school last week with what he originally said was a headache, I noticed he wasn’t enjoying his usual snack. Since I’m not certain he even knows what a headache is, I asked him if anything else hurt, and he responded: “My mouth hurts.” Maybe he meant a sore throat? After much back and forth analysis, his final conclusion was this: “I have a headache in my mouth.”
For better or for worse, these recent stomach illnesses have attracted the intense focus Brooks usually reserves for his daily schedules. He enthusiastically phoned his Baba (grandmother) and Aunt Madeline and all our friends to report whether there was or was not throw-up, and solicited strategies that would make him feel better.
And as he sat at the kitchen table in his Superman pajamas, he asked me for assurances that if he did all the right things, like taking small bites and drinking water slowly, that he would not “have throw-ups” again. I silently wished that the world was that simple, and said: “I hope so.” And as I wondered whether that was the best answer, and about how to introduce a complicated world to a sweet, innocent 6-year-old, I have to admit that I was happy to be grappling with a universal parenting issue, and one that had nothing to do with autism.