Our Tips for A Successful Blood draw

This morning, the alarm went off at 4:37am, and by alarm, I mean our 10 year-old with autism shouting, “Hey!…… Hey!….. Hey!…. Heeeeeeeyyyy! Open the dooooor!! Heey! Mom opens her eyes looks at the time and says, oh boy, it’s going to be a long 2 hours.

 Our Tips for A Successful Blood Draw

When treating autism as a medical condition, it’s important to get frequent lab testing done. Dr. Daniel Amen likes to say how do you know what to treat if you don’t look. You also need to check to determine if any treatments have been effective and to ensure treatment is guided in safe manner.

Our doc ordered several tests to check for different nutrient levels, markers for infections, and other important health indicators. It’s been a couple of years since our last major blood draw. Today, is the big day, but we have figured out a few tips for a successful blood draw experience. Hopefully, they will help us survive without adding too much stress on Ethan.

Be Prepared 

Those boy scouts might be onto something because all my tips for a successful blood draw revolve around being prepared. For us, laying the groundwork prior to the big day isessential for surviving the potentially traumatic event. In the past, our blood draws have required lots of effort with plenty of screaming & tears.

We’ve had to lay Ethan on the table while I have to sit on top of my poor boy and pin his shoulders down. It takes 2 nurses to hold his arm still and take the blood.  Preparing ahead of time can help lessen the stress on everyone.

Tips for Successful Blood Draw: Our not so secret formula to ensure a good blood draw for our son with autism.

4 Tips for A Successful Blood Draw
  1. Prepare the Lab
  2. Prepare the Child
  3. Prepare the Parents
  4. Prepare for the Trip
Tips for A Successful Blood Draw #1 : Prepare the Lab

The best thing to do before the big day is take your lab order to the lab a day or so in advance. This way, you can talk to the nurses there and complete any paperwork, clarify insurance info, try and figure out the cost, and the nurses have time to contact the doctor to clarify specific test ordered.

For example, a few of the tests ordered had different versions. Since we went to the lab 3 days in advance, they were able to call the doctor and get this resolved. Thus, avoiding a second trip and a second blood draw. 

It also gives you a chance to speak with the nurses and get a feel for them. We told them how difficult it has been in the past, and that it usually takes at least 2 people to draw the blood. Again, this saved us a trip.

The lab we planned on going to was only staffed by 1 person. We could have tried to do the draw with one person, but it would have been difficult. Likely, we would have to come back a 2nd time or switch arms midway after Ethan moved too much.

How’s the Vibe of the Lab staff?

Talking to lab also allows you, the parent, to get a feel for the staff. Do you get a good vibe from them? Are they receptive to your situation, or do they seem terrified by the thought of holding down a 10 year old with autism. The nurses that do the blood draw can really make a break the experience, so it’s critical to make sure you find good people.

Tips for A Successful Blood Draw #2 : Prepare the Child

Now that you’ve found a good lab and worked out any questions, you also should prepare your child. The week leading up to the draw, I continually talked to Ethan about it. Sometimes, you can’t really tell what he is thinking, but I suspect he understands far more than he can tell us. At least 2 times a day, I would tell him things like, “in a couple days we are going to go to the doctor” and then, I would describe what they are going to do there.

Social Story™

Social stories are also good ways to help kids with autism understand what to expect during the blood draw. My wife, being a special education teacher and self-proclaimed expert at creating social stories, wrote a story for Ethan about his upcoming blood draw.

The Dreaded Fast

If your lab order includes a test that must be done in a fasted state, this could be the most difficult part of the entire experience. My son likes to eat the moment he wakes up. Whether at 4am or if he sleeps in until 5:30am, he is hungry upon waking. Our new nighttime routine and his bedtime tea has seemed to help that, but he still likes to eat within 30 minutes of waking.

We do our best to prevent a stressful morning. We kept him up as late as we could last night, but he crashed around 9pm. In an effort to help him predict the morning, we told him several times that he would not be able to eat breakfast until after the doctor. We gave him his tea with extra MCT oil before bed in an effort to keep him satiated a little while longer. Of course, sleep and autism is a crapshoot. You can do everything right, but they still wake up 4:37am.

Tips for A Successful Blood Draw #3 : Prepare the Parents

My wife, Heather, and I make a great team. If you are a single parent, I’d recommend getting a friend or relative to sleep over to help with the morning. My wife’s, role in the blood draw is to ensure Ethan stays in good spirits before we go to the lab. I take over and bring him to the lab and make sure he is as comfortable as possible and stays still for the blood draw.

Prepare for Battle

As parents, we can’t do too much to prepare for a potential 4am wake up call and a 3 hour battle over breakfast. All you can do is try and get to sleep early, mentally prepare your mind, and of course prepare the battleground. My wife went to bed soon after Ethan did.

Beforehand, we made sure that the bag for the lab was packed with snacks, and that no food was in sight for Ethan to see and grab. Heather brilliantly downloaded new apps on his iPad to distract him and keep him happy.

These steps really worked well up until about 10 minutes before it was time to go when Ethan started storming into the kitchen. Heather could see that Ethan was primed for a meltdown. This is when she had another genius idea to turn the heat on.

She gave Ethan a blanket and showed him the vent. Ethan blissfully played on his iPad atop the vent until it was time to go. Nothing is more cozy on a cold morning than a blanket on top of the vent. Great idea Mama!

All for One and One for All

It’s best if no one eats and no one even goes near the kitchen while Ethan is fasting. This way we can try and keep his mind off of food. Therefore, we also prepared Gavin, our 8-year-old, for the fast. We told him he would also not be able to eat until Ethan and I left. Heather did hide Kaitlyn, the 2 year old, while she ate a banana.

Tips for Successful Blood Draw: Our not so secret formula to ensure a good blood draw for our son with autism.

While Mom was doing an amazing job at keeping Ethan calm and happy, I was ensuring I got enough sleep so that I’d be full of energy and in a positive mindset during the energy intensive blood draw. Truth be told, I woke up the same time they did, but I spent the morning just resting, meditating, and other hippie ways to get myself in a positive state.

I scooped Ethan up at 6:40, and we headed out the door. We spent the drive singing and dancing. Ethan had full control of my iPod and chose whatever songs he wanted to hear.

Tips for A Successful Blood Draw #4: Prepare for the Draw

We’ve arrived at the lab and we’re greeted by Robin, the nurse we’ve spoken to 3 times already. She has everything ready and immediately takes Ethan back. I continue to talk to Ethan about what’s going to happen. We’re happy. He seems anxious, but in a good way.

Robin allows Ethan to play with the rubber band and a few other squeeze toys while we wait for Anita, the other Nurse. Robin puts the band around his arm a couple of times and describes it as a little hug. Once Nurse Anita comes in, we’re ready for the draw.

The Moment is Here

Ethan sits on my lap. My leg is wrapped around his waist while I hold his body still and prevent his free hand from ripping away the band. Nurse Anita stabilizes his shoulder and other arm while Nurse Robin begins the task of withdrawing many, many tubes of blood. The doctor ordered 20 tests, so we’re going to be holding things still for several minutes.

Once the tubes were filled, we released Ethan. He was still a little upset and saying car car car, but then I gave him an apple. He chomped down on that apple and was happy as a clam showing off his iPad to nurse Robin.

If you follow all of my tips for a successful blood draw, you can help your kiddo survive the experience with as little stress as possible. In all honesty though, the key to whether or not your blood draw is a traumatic event comes down to the nurses that perform the blood draw. We’ve had some terrible lab techs who were not happy, not really talkative, and needed to do multiple sticks in his arms. I am so happy to say that this experience was amazing.

tips for a successful blood draw

Ethan happy as can be after his blood draw.

Both Anita and Robin were incredible. They encouraged Ethan and expended so much energy just being overly happy and reassuring. They really seemed to sincerely care about Ethan that moment. When he started to cry, they turned up the charm and support. I am so grateful to Robin especially. She could not have been more upbeat and positive, and she was an expert at the blood draw.

One stick and the tubes just started to fill one after another with ease. Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this lady! She made the experience great for me and for Ethan. I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew 3 sizes. Thank you to Nurse Robin and Nurse Anita who are the real heroes behind today’s successful blood draw!


Resources from the Web
  1. Video to a Blood draw Social Story
  2. Autism Speaks: Blood Draw Tool Kit

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Tell us about your experience good or bad. Do you have any tips to share?

tips for a successful blood draw

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