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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Problem of Pica

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Many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of pregnant women attempting to eat coal, but more commonly, parents first experience a variation on this theme, when their baby becomes mobile. The small person, appears to be an eating machine, whizzing about with their new found freedom only to stuff their mouths with all kinds of inappropriate items. Their infectious delight at this pastime is matched by their parent's trauma. Suddenly, the true meaning of something commonly referred to as 'a choking hazard,' makes perfect sense.

So, what is pica? Here are a couple of options;

pica /pi·ca/ (pi´kah) [L.] compulsive eating of nonnutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, flaking paint, clay, hair, or laundry starch.
Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. © 2007 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
pi·ca (pk)
An abnormal craving or appetite for nonfood substances, such as dirt, paint, or clay.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 2nd Edition Copyright © 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

I can't say that I find either particularly compelling.

Percentages. How many people have a problem with PICA? It depends upon who you ‘count’ and whether it is a ‘problem’ for them, or the people they keep company with.
Maybe as many as "30% of autistic children."

There are reports of people attempting to eat metal, string and hair, amongst many other things. The last two stand out in particular, not because of the boys, but because of my girls. Earlier research, whilst I was in my usual state of panic, determined that a tiny minority of the population are hair twiddlers. An even tinier sub group are hair nibblers. Why should one worry about hair nibbling, apart from the pica implications? Because hair, unlikely as it may seem, is abrasive to teeth. It’s a bit like gnawing on a Rhino horn, which for current purposes of course, is composed of compressed hair. Nibble your hair and have a big dental bill! There’s even a name for it! "Trichophagia." How many more OCD and orally defensive people can one family encompass?

I have a sudden flash of my sister, mid nibble, 'rabbiting' as my father referred to the habit. I think of all the nail biters in my family, not this generation but the last one, or the one before that come to think of it! One huge fat nibbling gene, no wonder we all have such bad teeth! Dentures for everyone, that's the answer, along with buzz cuts.

Do my children have some of these issues or something closely related? Well that’s what I thought, that’s why I started to check it out all over again, brush up on my research, determine the pertinent facts, because of what I saw. It was only later, the next day that I do the right thing. The right thing? And what might that be? I ask him, of course.

I ask him as he cavorts on the wretched cat scratcher.
“Why are you eating the catnip dear?” He continues to cavort, wordless, with little green flecks around his mouth and stuck to his hair. I wait and count to 15, as he’s about 15 at the moment. I picked this moment because he is happy and when he is happy he is often more willing to communicate with words. He and the cat continue to play.
“Do you like the taste?” I count again as the two of them chase his imaginary tail. The cat is frantic. So is the boy. I am distracted by the plants, the house plants which have been systematically chewed by two cats. If it wasn’t for the cats, I wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. It's all their fault really. If they would just control their house plant abuse tendencies, then I wouldn't have had to smother the cat scratcher with catnip, then I would never have known that my son likes to eat catnip.

I remind myself that catnip [translation = cat mint] is really just a herb, almost a culinary herb perhaps?

I remind myself of a couple of other things. Firstly, they when he talks to the cats or any other animals his "speech delay falls away." Secondly, that when he is 'being' a cat, he will not speak, because cats don't. Very occasionally, I can persuade him, [or is it just luck?] to talk for the cat, be the cat's translator. I am so glad that the school psychologist is not around to witness my chat with the cat.

"Hey Unis! What are you doing?" I ask as I stroke his furry back until he meows.
"What's that? I wish I understood cat." He sparks, my son does that is, to tell me, "Unis! He is very happy today." Let's not get bogged down the the spelling thing, or the sex thing, just accept that Unis is a wrongly spelled version of Unice, which of course is a girl's name.
"Why are you happy Unis?"
"BEcause he loves catnip. It makes him all......crazy."
"SO you two are just enjoying a snack together, like pals?"
"Yes, we're just foolin around wiv each other."
"Does he like the taste of catnip?"
"Kinda, but not really, at least, I don't like to eat it, I'm just playin along wiv him coz we're friends."

Moral = to ensure maximum productivity, make sure you are worrying about the right things.

"Pica resources"



Getting Beauty to eat anything has always been an issue and as yet there has been no eating of inappropriate items. However, I regularly find her chewing on a toy animal whilst she is concentrating, a bit like chewing on a pen. She loves chewing on the rhino and the tiger best!Oh and she also loves to chew on one of her huge collection of plastic spiders! I fear she may pick up a real one some day!

Anonymous said...

I agree this problem of PICA is a big problem. Even my child eat's a lot of dirt and nonnutritive stuff from the ground. But, one more thing of importance is to make your house child friendly. There is a lot of stuff in the house lying everywhere. One thing should be taken into account once you become pregnant is make the house a place where the child can move freely and even you can be stress releived towards your child.


Anonymous said...

Well, we've got pica problems - but grazing for things that were once food is much worse for us. Like, say, petrified cheerios from under the cupboard? Things that are literally ANCIENT and managed to hide in crevices of the car seat? Gum off the undersides of restaurant tables, anyone?

Our current all time worst problem, however, is extremely similar to the one you describe. William is a giraffe. The giraffe doesn't talk either (as you noted, they don't), but he does kind of honk sometimes if very provoked. He growls, too. And he used to spit until we pointed out that they are not kin to camels and llamas. But he's taken to eating leaves and acorns because he's a giraffe, and we have to be extremely vigilant! Along the list of "things I never thought I'd have to say" is modifying our "we do not put things that are not food into our mouth" to specify "we do not put things that are not people food into our mouth."

I get him to translate for the giraffe a good deal, which is good. And the silver lining I take away is, for a child who doesn't use many pronouns and nary an article, he clearly knows how to properly use the third person when he speaks for the giraffe: "He does not LIKE brocolli. He wants some hay."

The Jedi Family of Blogs said...

I had a terrible time with pica in pregnancy (I craved sand, of all things), which responded well to iron suplements & then to having the kid. Brendan developed his own case a couple of years ago. Charlie realised that he was nibbling aluminum foil & put it all together. Now he nibbles a daily chewable vitamin with iron instead. Interesting connexion between hair twirling & nibbling & pica- I'm a life-long twirler & Brendan's become a nibbler...

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