A mum has opened up about her son's unusual condition which sees him eating the furniture and his nappies.
Marie Buckley, 32, from Hull, East Yorkshire, has shared the difficulties in dealing with her son's eating disorder, Pica, which sees him eating non-food items like nappies, furniture, paper, fluff, toys, and books.
William Buckley, four, has been attempting to eat non-food items since he was two, after initially eating paper and tissue.
His mother, who works part-time as a training co-ordinator, has had to remove books and soft toys from his room and distract him during the day.
"Pica is a condition where sufferers are attracted to eating things that contain no nutritional value," she explains.
"It's really difficult to diagnose in children as a lot of professionals will just expect a child to grow out of it."
Buckley explains that William hasn't always tried to eat his nappies, but this is a new problem that has developed within the last six months.
"He tries to eat them on a daily basis, more so at night when he's in his bedroom," Buckley says.
"William will eat paper; he ate half a book when it was on the wrong shelf in his room. He also eats mattress protectors as they were fluffy around the edges so we had to change the material.
"He'll also eat carpet fibres, soft toys, the rain cover on his stroller and any form of fluff or hair."
In order to help control the condition, Buckley says she has removed all books and soft toys from her son's room, but says it is a "work in progress".
"During the day, I can run interference and distract him, but at night it's proving difficult," she explains.
William is currently still at pre-school after waiting to be placed in a suitable school for his needs as he also has ASD (autism spectrum disorder), GDD (global developmental delay), and SPD (sensory processing disorder).
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Buckley is now hoping to raise awareness about his conditions and share the reality of parenting a child with hidden disabilities.
"The lack of awareness around William's conditions is shocking," she explains. "The cruelness in the comments people make is appalling. I had no idea what any of these conditions were and if it wasn't for support groups on Facebook, I wouldn't know nearly as much as I do now.
"William's disabilities are hidden but it doesn't make them any less viable."
What is pica?
According to eating disorder charity, BEAT, pica is a feeding disorder in which someone eats non-food substances that have no nutritional value, such as paper, soap, paint, chalk, or ice.
"For a diagnosis of pica, the behaviour must be present for at least one month, not part of a cultural practice, and developmentally inappropriate," the site explains.
The condition is generally not diagnosed in children under the age of two, as it is common for babies to “mouth” objects, which can lead to them accidentally eating substances that aren’t meant to be eaten.
Possible signs of pica, according to BEAT include, craving to consume substances that aren’t supposed to be eaten, eating substances that aren’t supposed to be eaten, physical illness as a result of eating harmful substances.
While pica affects people of all genders and ages, it is more likely to first appear among children and can also occur alongside other illnesses, including other eating disorders.
BEAT says the condition may also be more likely to occur alongside:
Iron deficiency anaemia
Intellectual developmental disorders
Obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders such as trichotillomania (hair-pulling) and excoriation disorder (skin-picking)
It isn't fully understood why some people develop pica, but some experts have linked it to the nervous system, and have understood it as a learned behaviour or coping mechanism.
Though those with pica don’t usually avoid regular food, which means they may still be getting all the nutrients they need, BEAT says some non-food items that they consume can be very dangerous, especially if eaten in large quantities.
If you or someone you know has eaten something that isn’t supposed to be eaten, you should seek medical help immediately.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone else, BEAT recommends visiting your doctor as quickly as possible so that they can refer you for appropriate treatment.