Hands up if, before your children were born, you ever uttered the immortal words: “I’ll make sure my kids eat a healthy diet. None of this processed crap.” We’ve all been there, right? My kids were going to eat healthy, home-made food. They would experience it from the earliest age possible and grow up with good healthy appetites, eating a balanced five a day menu of dietary decency. Of course, there would be chocolate and ice cream too. They’re kids, after all (not to mention the fact that we had no intention of giving these things up ourselves). But for every sweetie there would be fruit, for every oven chip, a fresh vegetable. Right?
Wrong. We started well enough, though. As babies, both boys fed well. My wife breast fed successfully, and spent a great deal of time pureeing vegetables and providing healthy home-made meals when they were weaned. B in particular had a good appetite, accepting most things we offered him in those early years. You could have forgiven us for thinking we had cracked it, food wise. Meals were eaten as part of a rock solid routine and were healthy and beneficial. Way to go, daddy!
Then reality sets in. The frozen, breadcrumb coated, processed turkey twizzler (or any number of variations upon it) becomes your best friend when you’re tired, they’re hungry and you know that cous cous you made will end up in the bin. At some point, god knows when, this boxed food of questionable nutritious value finds its way into your freezer. And when your kids decide they like it, there’s no going back. Goodbye freshly prepared meals, hello shite. Bad luck, daddy.
Now add autism.
My autistic son has a shockingly limited diet. Bread and cheese, assorted snack foods like crisps and chocolate, jelly and sausages are pretty much the extent of his diet that we can reliably serve him. Other foods will come and go in his tolerance, but don’t count on him still liking that pie you gave him last week. Talking of which, I watched my wife this week cook a pie, slice it open and scrape out every last bit of its contents, until just two soggy slithers of pastry remained. Which he then refused to eat.
This is something that any autism parent will recognise. This week, having decided to start writing about B’s diet, I started reading ‘Can’t Eat, Won’t Eat’ by Brenda Legge. As well as brilliantly conveying her own experiences with a child on the spectrum, she includes quotes from many other parents with similar experiences. I found myself nodding throughout. I’ll post a full review next week when I’ve finished reading it, but in the meantime I suggest you stop reading this blog, get over to Amazon and order it. You won’t regret it. Off you go.
Still here? Okay, let me share with you a taster of some of the things we’ve experienced as part of my son’s autism diet.
I guess my son is not unique amongst children his age in disliking the crusts on his bread and toast. Rather than just leaving them though, he insists on having them removed. That’s fine, we can cope with that. But when he starts leaving the edges of his bread as well, that’s when I have to count to ten. He’s essentially reducing a slice of bread to four tiny bites. What a waste.
A large part of my son’s eating problems stem from his inability to sit at the dinner table. Just getting him there is a struggle at times. Yesterday I tortuously sat through a meal with him, policing his every mouthful. If I don’t tell him to take another bite, he won’t. And if he does, it often comes with protestations. This is so wearing- to have to tell him to put each and every single forkful in his mouth. That’s if he used a fork. If he can use his fingers to pick it up, he will. Is this laziness, a sensory issue, dexterity problems, poor motor skills or something else? Autism is baffling sometimes.
Yesterday, I made a rookie error and left the table. Before I knew it he was off into the living room, like the ultimate escape artist. I yelled at him to come back, which surprisingly, he did. But not without, somehow, having scratched his face in the twenty seconds he had been gone. And not just a little scratch- this was the length of cheek and up past his eye; what my wife calls a ’presenting injury’ (because that’s what his school will call it when they see it). How is this possible? How can anyone manage to do this to themselves in such a short space of time? And how can any parent manage to be anything but a failure in the face of such insurmountable odds?
Just liking a particular type of food is not enough for my son. The food has to be presented and served to his exact specifications. Change or variety is not welcomed. I feel foul to this last week, when I gave him crackers and cheese at lunchtime. I know he likes this ‘meal’, I’ve seen my wife make it for him. “Not like that!” he screamed at me when I put the plate in front of him. Apparently, the cheese goes at the side of the plate, not on the crackers. As a result he would not entertain the idea of eating it. He’s lucky it didn’t get shoved up his nose.
Back in the glory days of our ‘food fantasy’ period, the one thing we knew was that we weren’t going to spend our lives in McDonald’s. I’ve read Fast Food Nation. I know the evil that lurks therein. But whatever that evil is, my son loves it, and would quite possibly eat it every day if we let him. A nugget happy meal, with all its nourishing goodness, is his favourite food. Perhaps I should just pour salt down his gob. The toys he can take or leave, meaning that it really is all about the taste. Or is it? If we suggest a drive through (sorry ‘thru’) he will make a fuss about going in. It’s an environment he likes, and he will sit still throughout the time we’re in there. Victory to the scary, grinning clown, I guess.
Alongside his happy meal, B loves a strawberry milkshake (McShake?). This is easier to explain than his addiction to nuggets (McNuggets?) as it feeds his sensory needs, both in terms of the coldness, the texture and the experience of sucking it through the straw, which requires a lot of effort. Sadly, no type of milkshake we’ve given him at home has the same sort of appeal. That really McSucks.
I could write a book about asd and eating habits, if a much better writer hadn’t already beaten me to it. Instead, I’ll share some of the things we’ve learnt along the way in next week’s post. Maybe by then we’ll have had a major breakthrough and persuaded B to eat something new, like pork. It would have to be from a flying pig, of course.