If you and I were to have a contest called “I bet my kid is more of a picky eater than your kid”…I mean, I’m not trying to be overly competitive or anything, but…I WIN!
Look at the above photo. This is a cut-up strip of a grilled cheese sandwich that Easton took off of his plate today at lunch. Do you want to know why he wouldn’t eat it? Because of that little piece of bread that is hanging off the edge. Once I ripped that part off, he was fine with it. I wish this was a joke or an exaggeration, but it’s not.
His food issues are difficult to explain to people. When he was still being spoon-fed baby food, he ate almost anything. It took him a REALLY long time to figure out how to feed himself with his hands. (I was overjoyed the day he picked up his first Cheerio.) Once he started eating with his hands, new issues popped up. I do realize that there are many “picky eaters” out there. Kids with autism have sensory issues, so it’s not just about not liking a certain food. It’s about the way it feels to touch with their hands, and how it feels in their mouth. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, he refuses to use utensils. So…he stopped eating ANYTHING that doesn’t feel right in his hands. Well-intentioned people have asked me if I’ve tried sneaking a few peas or bites of corn in with his other food. Yes, I have tried that. He will pick them up and place them nicely next to his plate. (Yay! He didn’t throw it!) He used to eat most kinds of meat. In fact, we called him “Our Little Carnivore” for a while. Now…apparently he has taken a strong stance against the slaughtering of animals and won’t eat any meat either.
Here is what he WILL eat: bread and cheese (which has made grilled cheese sandwiches a staple in our house), crackers, eggs (although not for me…only at his OPS preschool…I have thought about asking their food service people to come to my house and cook the eggs the way he likes them. Again…I’m not joking), bananas (only at school), apple-cinnamon cereal bars, cheese pizza (but only if there is ZERO strings of cheese hanging off the edges) and…CHEESE PUFFS.
And I believe I just heard a collective gasp, followed by, “Oh my GOD, his diet is so unhealthy!”
Yes. I know.
You know how people give that age-old advice “Oh, he’ll eat when he’s hungry, you have to just keep putting other foods in front of him!” Here’s the thing: NO. HE WON’T. I have sent him to bed with no supper. It’s a common occurrence for him not to eat lunch. I have stopped letting him have a snack when we get home from school in hopes that he will eat supper no matter what I put in front of him because he’ll be so damn hungry. HE DOESN’T. I have made the decision, for now, to feed him what he likes because, to put it simply, I want him to have food in his stomach. Do I like making him the same thing for supper every night? No. Do I wish it was different? YES.
His preschool teachers told me that it’s extremely common for autistic kids to have food issues because they have hypersensitivity (when their sensory awareness is too acute). The hard part is that, to begin with, they might only eat 5-10 foods. Then, for whatever reason, they suddenly refuse 3 of those. Easton used to eat and LOVE pasta with red sauce (I have pictures to prove it). Then, out of nowhere, he started freaking out over the mess it made on his hands and he WILL NOT touch it. To give you an idea of how heightened his sense of touch is, he will be playing outside and start screaming about a SINGLE piece of dirt on his hand. He can’t continue playing until it’s off. Here’s how I look at it: his world is different than ours. He’s not freaking about the mess or a piece of dirt on his hands because he’s being naughty. He’s freaking out because it FEELS DIFFERENT to him than it does for you and me.
Just like he walked back and forth yesterday outside, laughing, looking at the way the sun was coming through the branches of the tree for 45 minutes. In our world, that is not very exciting. In his world, it is pure joy.
I do know there are specialists where we live that offer a “Feeding and Growing Clinic” to help autistic kids with their food issues, and I plan to look into it to see if that’s our next step.
In the meantime…my grocery list will ALWAYS include bread, cheese, and milk so my child is fed and happy, and I vow to cut it perfectly so none of the bites are rejected.