As I established last week, my son has, for a long time, rejected any notions of what you’d call a healthy diet. This week, I’d like to share with you my son’s alternate, fantasy diet.
There are no set mealtimes in my son’s fantasy diet. He’s what you’d call a grazer. By that, I mean he likes to eat little and often, rather than be a slave to a fixed eating time. Why wait until five o’clock if you’re hungry now? The logic is hard to argue with really. Try driving past the dreaded golden arches of McDonald’s and you’ll know how hard. And who says food has to be eaten sitting down? In B’s fantasy diet, food is literally eaten on the move. B is a roamer, never happier than when he’s taking his food on a little tour of the house, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Quite often, if left to his own devices, he’ll take a snack and go in lie in Mummy and Daddy’s bed. Collapsing into bed to find a soggy digestive stuck to your leg is no fun, believe me.
On a typical day, B’s menu for breakfast includes… well, anything really. I have known my son to eat jelly as his first meal of the day. Ditto Magnums, ice lollies and popadoms. Many readers will be horrified that we let this happen. I’m horrified. But when that’s the only way you can progress to toast in a morning, or when it’s the difference between that and an empty belly… well, you choose your battles, as my wife always says. We’ve got enough on our plate, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun. As a result, the fantasy diet is often a reality. Sweet and savoury courses at mealtime are sometimes eaten out of order or sometimes at the same time. Fingers are used. The floor is decorated in food. Most ends up in the bin.
Annoyingly, B eats much better when he is at school. Although what we can put in his lunchbox is limited, he sits well and eats it. We haven’t had any success with trying school meals, but that could just as well be an indicator of discerning taste on his part rather than anything autism related. It would be easy to conclude that school are simply better than looking after him than we are, but I try to keep this in perspective. The dynamic at school is totally different to at home. There’s a level of order and timetabled discipline that you simply wouldn’t and couldn’t run at home. I’ve met lots of parents over the years who have asked me how their child’s behaviour is at school, because at home they are difficult. The answer is usually that they are not a problem in the classroom. It’s just different. Similarly, I have to remind myself that at school, B has one to one attention at all times. That doesn’t happen at home and is not a realistic expectation.
One of our biggest challenges is my son’s inflexibility when it comes to trying new food. Brenda Legge writes very well about this in the book I mentioned last week, and which I’ve reviewed here. What I like most about ‘Can’t Eat, Won’t Eat’ is the relief of knowing you’re not the only family to have experienced these problems. My wife was once told, on an autism course, that if the asd child adds one new thing per year to their repertoire of acceptable food, you’re doing well. At the same meeting, she was the only parent whose child would eat more than one type of potato food. We have the luxury of being able to feed B both chips and mash. In fact, as difficult as our food issues with B are, we are far from being a reason for medical concern. In our area, referral to a dietician will only happen if less than seven types of food are eaten in a week. B easily eats more than this. For example, he’ll eat Kit Kats, Mars, Smarties, Buttons, Milky Bar, Kinder Eggs, Dairy Milk and Maltesers. There’s eight already.
And he’s getting much better. We can almost reason with him now at mealtimes, cajoling him into “one more bit” or offering rewards for finishing. As with all things autism related, it has been a slow learning process, but we’re closer to understanding how he works, and what works for him. Our journey has seen us try a number of strategies and methods that might help. Often these were aimed at reducing some of the more difficult aspects of our son’s behaviour. The Sunderland Test came and went, as did a dairy free diary. We flirted with casein and gluten reductions, before admitting defeat. Maybe if we tried now we’d have more luck, but when you’re in the midst of a period of ‘ice-only’ food (he really did live on freeze pops for a while) then you’ve got no chance.
The ice thing is a reminder that, at the root of almost all these eating issues are my son’s sensory processing problems. Next week, I’ll share what we’ve learnt about all this.
In the meantime, here’s one final addition to my son’s fantasy diet: the handstand. This is his new favourite thing. Why let the forces of gravity get in the way of eating food? Performing a handstand on the sofa whilst eating is fun, and allows you to watch television. At its worst, this could be a serious choking hazard. At best, the cause of serious indigestion, which in our house is usually bad news. Our hearts sink when we hear the cry of, “My diaphragm is starting!” This is B’s hyperlexic way of saying, “I have hiccups.” The phrase sums up my boy- unable to engage in the simplest of conversations, but capable of using complex words and sentences when it’s on his terms. How long before he’s telling us “normal peristalsis of my esophagus is being suppressed!”? Hiccups are not well received, and are usually followed by a mini-meltdown. Not fun.
Apparently, hiccups can also be called ‘Sigultus’, which comes from the Latin ‘singult’: “the act of catching one’s breath while sobbing.” Appropriate really, because that’s how autism sometimes makes me feel.
I hope you’ll join me next week for the third (and final) course of my son’s autism diet.