Kitty Syringes

A visit to the neurologist in May confirmed what we’d suspected.

It had been rather challenging to secure the appointment because these specialists are very much in demand. We were immensely grateful for the intervention of the pediatrician that had seen Rollo for weaseling us an appointment.

We arrived on a Saturday morning, and all crowded into the doctor’s reception area. Em and Charl were having problems, to put it lightly, and things were a tad strained. Rollo, however, was completely unconcerned. He spotted the doctor’s office door opening and made a beeline for the inner sanctum.

Em leaped up to grab Rollo, but the doctor waved her away. Rollo strolled around his desk, investigating. His gait was still rather ungainly, although it was much more stable than before.

After observing our precious little lad for a few minutes and performing two simple tests, the neurologist ushered us into his office. Chris grabbed an extra chair from the waiting room. Clearly, such large groups weren’t the norm.

“Well, I know why you’re here,” was the first thing he said to us.

We all looked at him expectantly.

“Your child is autistic.”

There was silence in the room. Not an OH, MY GOODNESS, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??? kind of silence but more like a phew, okay, so we haven’t imagined things.

What sort of things, I hear you ask? Well, not speaking, for one. Not a single word, and he was well over two years old. Rollo also did not care for stacking or sorting toys. Nor were play cars or anything else similar a blip on his radar. He had a few books he fancied that we’d been reading to him since he was born. But trying to introduce new ones was met with a disdainful glare, and he’d chuck them off his high chair or simply squirm his way off your lap to escape.

A firm favourite!

The only thing he was really invested in was Hey Duggee, his favourite program on YouTube. He watched a lot of it. But not couch potato style, oh no. He’d run around, play with his stuff (okay – feel his stuff and chew on it a bit), yell at the bits he didn’t agree with and generally interact with the little characters on the show in a very animated way. Mostly all on tippy toes.

The doctor grabbed a piece of paper and started writing, telling us we needed a team. The first thing he wrote down was his own cell phone number. Then followed the speech therapist’s number. A kind lady who was qualified to help autistic children. “You can have the best speech therapist in the world,” he reiterated, “but if they don’t have experience teaching autistic kids, you’ll get nowhere.” He then went on to impress upon us that we had the next four and a half years to get Rollo to speak.

I rolled my eyes internally, feh! That was a ridiculous amount of time. He’d be speaking long before that. Little did I know.

Loads of explaining and discussion ensued. It was a lot to take in but also extremely edifying at the same time. He told us that babies were born with about 100 billion brain cells, and 20 to 40 billion died off during the first year. With autistic children, those brain cells don’t die off, and the connections have to find different ways to connect. Duck and dive around the overfull brain, as it were. This is called a neurodiverse brain. It certainly makes it very understandable why no two children on the spectrum are exactly the same.

Autism is on the rise. But the doctors aren’t sure if it’s because more kiddos are being tested or if the disorder itself is becoming more prevalent. While genetics do play a part, there are also outside factors at play. Whilst they have some theories, nobody really knows what causes it. Nor is there a cure for autism.

We were there for almost two hours. Clearly, it was a special appointment—for which we were immensely grateful.

For much of this time, Charl was outside in the courtyard, keeping Rollo occupied. I think the doctor quickly summed up the situation and figured out a way to relieve some of the tension.

The doctor prescribed medication for Rollo. A central nervous system suppressant. He told us where to get it but said we could also ask our local chemist to order it. He prattled on about dosage and that we’d start with x-amount for so many weeks. Then we’d increase it over the weeks until we reached the full amount needed. It would take us a couple of months to get there. If the medicine worked, that is. That was a problem with autistic children. Some medicines simply didn’t work on that particular person. But not to worry, he said, there were other things we could also try.

My heart sank. I’m the chief medicine dispenser in our house, and Rollo had just been through a hideous bout of COVID and was maxed out on taking meds. (And some of them had not made a damn bit of difference – that now made perfect sense.) So we were ultimately going to have to give this stuff to him three times a day. I could not bear the thought of every meal time becoming a fight to get the meds into him.

My sinking heart puddled around my feet, and my breath lodged in my throat. Shit. How were we going to manage this?

He stressed that we should not overdose Rollo.

“What happens if we do?” I asked.

“You call me,” was his reply.

“But what will happen to Rollo,” I persisted, envisaging him conking out in a dead swoon or something equally horrible.

The doctor popped his tongue in and out like a lizard, demonstrating what Rollo would do if he got too much medicine.

That filled me with even more dread.

As we got up to leave, there was some banter about physicists and vets, and between them, they’d be able to measure the correct dose. Em also mentioned in passing that I was a kid’s author. The neurologist looked at me very seriously.

“Write books about autism,” he said.

I nodded, already envisaging something in the Sibo Series.

Once we’d dropped everybody off at home, Chris and I tootled off to our local Clicks to fill the prescription. They didn’t have the prescribed meds but promised to order them. The pharmacist seemed to be a little confused and stood there, scratching his head.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

He grinned at me, “I don’t know how you will measure this. It’s such a tiny amount.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” was my reply, “the doctor said the meds came with a special syringe.”

He breathed a sigh of relief.

But when I collected the medicine on Monday afternoon and actually looked at the fancy syringe provided, I was again struck with terror. How was I supposed to get exactly the right teensy little amount?

0,175 ml.

Around that time, Vetboy trudged into the kitchen, exhausted after a hard day doing learner vetly stuff. He’s in his 6th year now and doing clinical trials. He noticed that I was clutching my head, never mind scratching it.

He grabbed the bottle and said, “It’s simple. You do it like this.”

He inserted the syringe into the plastic top of the bottle and flipped it upside down, vet style.

Precious medicine (it is rather expensive – even the generic version) splashed out onto the counter.

We both gasped in horror. Luan peered at the bottle. Was it defective? We weren’t sure, but we certainly weren’t going to try again and waste even more of the stuff.

He dashed off to his room and came back with a skinny little syringe. The whole thing only measured  1 ml. There were clear divisions, and it was almost impossible to draw up too much. I heaved a sigh of relief.

It turns out it’s a syringe that vets use for kittens and other teensy critters.

Rollo’s meds have to be administered after food. Doesn’t have to be a lot of food, but must be something. Not really a problem with Rollo because he always eats his food nicely.

But it tastes really vile.

That first day, I squirted the contents of the syringe onto his spoon with a bit of ice cream and was amazed to see that it was literally a couple of drops. I marveled that such a small amount would make a difference.

He swallowed it down without even blinking.

After just a couple of days, we started to notice little differences. The most significant—Rollo stopped grinding his teeth.

Although sadly, that did not last very long.

Yet, eye contact was starting to happen for longer periods of time, and he’s mostly stopped banging his head in frustration. It was a great day when he stepped over something in his way, instead of blundering through it.

We danced with joy a few weeks later when my elder daughter, Lauren, who was visiting at the time, jingled one of Bella’s fidget toys next to Rollo’s head when he was sitting in the high chair.


This had never happened before. The meds were definitely starting to work.

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