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Autism and Food Struggles

When my 21-year-old daughter was born, my mother gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten:

Children will try to control you with two things: sleep and food. Don’t let them control it. Train them. You’re in charge. When they learn they can’t control you through those two things, you’ve won a battle so many parents struggle so hard with.

I took that to heart. I have three children: 21, 12, and 10, and all three eat well. With all three, there was a period of time we struggled, and it was at about the same age with them. It stands out most in my mind with my daughter, because she is the oldest so by the time the other two came around, I already had the experience.

She was about 2.5 to 3-years-old. I’d made something new for dinner. She looked at me from her high chair, picked up her plate, and dumped it on the floor. I reprimanded her, made her a plate with the veggies, salad, and bread from dinner thinking the main course was what she objected to, and she dumped her plate again. I said, “You’ll eat a big breakfast,” then got her down from her high chair and didn’t give her anything else to eat that night.

The next night, I intentionally made something she liked – like spaghetti. Again, she picked up her plate, looked at me, and dumped it on the floor. I didn’t give her a second chance this time. I just reprimanded her, reminded her breakfast would be a meal she’d consume, and put her to bed.

We went through this one more night. I was actually surprised. I thought she’d eat the third night, but she didn’t.

By the fourth night, she ate everything on her plate and asked for more. After that, if she didn’t like something (we required tasting all foods on plate but not consuming all foods), she was allowed to get extra salad, sides, or bread to supplement.

Even now, she has a well-defined palate and is a good cook in her own right.

With the boys, I had a similar experience at about the same age with the same results. My boys will taste anything, eat almost anything, and have good palates and good appetites. They know how to order from a restaurant menu, and know how to eat what they serve themselves.

I say all that to say that when our son Scott  (who is now 12) was 2.5-3, we didn’t know he had autism. If we had known, we likely would have done food completely differently — and done it to a detriment to him.

Even with him, with texture sensitivity, enhanced smell capabilities, and OCD tendencies that make it hard for him when food touches other food, he will taste anything on his plate and usually eat it. If he doesn’t like it, there isn’t a big deal made. He simply piles the food on his plate from the dinner offerings that he does eat and later will get a slice of cheese or an apple as he prepares for bed.

I never make him something special outside of what we’re eating. Back when the OCD was really bad, he would even deconstruct things like pot pie (now one of his favorite meals) and wipe the gravy off of the implements, separate them on his plate, then eat them.

The only exception I make for him is when I make chicken or steak fried rice. White rice is his favorite food. Seriously. That boy could consume nothing but white rice for the rest of his life and be happy as a clam.

He came into the kitchen one night and saw cubes of steak that had marinated in soy and ginger sizzling in sesame oil and saw the pan of white rice cooking on the stove.

“My favorite foods!” he exclaimed.

When he asked what was for dinner, I told him steak fried rice with veggies. His whole body fell and his countenance grayed. Finally, he said, very dramatically and morosely, “All my favorite foods are going to get mixed together in a terrible way.”

I contemplated what he said, and after he left the kitchen. Then, I made him a plate with all of the elements of the fried rice but separated. For the rest of the family, I mixed it all together and fried/seasoned the meal as originally planned. When he came to the table and saw his plate, everything about him exuded joy.

From then on, whenever I make fried rice for dinner, I always set his elements aside and just give him a plate with them separated. I’ve never in my life as a mother made a “special” meal outside of what was for dinner for a child. But this occasional special treat fills him with joy and he completely cleans his plate. In a Chinese restaurant, he even knows how to order so that everything comes separated, too.

I think as often as he has to make concessions and compromises to just cope and function as a human being in this neuro-typical normal world, giving him this little treat is the very least I can do.


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Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 9/10/18 – Mistakes Made in Parenting Autism

Hello! Welcome to Monday morning coffee and chat!

I really appreciate all of the questions that I get from my readers. Today I’m talking about how letting her autistic son read books like CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, and MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE were really setting him up for failure in middle school.

I hope you learn more about me through my response:



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Autism – Friends

I look back on our son Scott’s childhood and see where I made an assumption about autism that a lot of people mistakenly make.

Throughout his toddler years and young childhood, Scott never sought out other children. In social situations, he would find a quiet corner away from a crowd of kids and would play on his own. Until third grade, he couldn’t even differentiate between “he” and “she” among the crowd, and never knew anyone’s name. It was easy to generate an assumption that he didn’t want to cultivate friendships, that he didn’t care. In fact, those are the words I used, “He doesn’t care about other kids or having friends.”

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve realized how wrong I was. Right after we moved to Fort Knox, another family moved in with three children all around the ages as Scott and his brother Jeb. Scott connected with them in a way we’d never seen nor expected, and soon developed close friendships with them. They accepted him without reservation, let him set the tone for their interactions, and still sought him out to play or hang out. This was the first time in his life that he had friends like that. He’s had a school friend before, another child with autism, but their interactions were separate but together — coming together for play dates where they each went into their own corners to play. Not a lot of one-on-one interaction, just an understanding of acceptance. With these friends, though, it was true, full-blown, sharing thoughts and ideas and fears and imaginations. He completely blossomed and bloomed under their friendship and learned so much about interacting outside of the circle of just him and Jeb.

They moved right after school got out and he admitted not long after that he was lonely, and that he wished he had another friend.

Recently, he wanted to go to the mall to go to a store called Hot Topic. For those of you who don’t have children of a certain age who might not know, Hot Topic is the “cool” store – especially for us nerdy centric families. It has fun paraphernalia from all sorts of pop culture and music. He’d researched this store, what they carried, and the item that he wanted to purchase that was a “Hot Topic Exclusive”. He saved his money until he had enough, then we made our way to the mall one day in early summer.

Scott has serious sensory issues, and one that affects him in the extreme is hearing. He often wears noise-canceling headphones in loud areas. My husband and I have a pair in each of our vehicles, and Scott carries a pair in his backpack at school. We walked into the mall this day, and I held the headphones out to him, knowing how loud they play the music in Hot Topic.

“No,” he said, holding a hand up to ward me off, “I don’t need them.”

“Really?” I didn’t fight. It’s his decision whether he wears them or not. I just put them in my purse so that they’d be there in case he needed them.

“Really. Besides, I want the people at Hot Topic to think I fit in.”

That took my breath away. All of this assumption that he doesn’t care, that social situations are meaningless to him completely flew out the window.

He cares. He knows he doesn’t fit in. He didn’t say he wanted to fit in. He said he wanted them to think he fits in.

The problem is not a lack of desire. The problem is a different functioning brain that takes all of the social cues and nuances and skews them so that they’re not understood the way that you or I or anyone else with a normal neurotypical brain can read, understand, and respond to properly. It’s just easier for him to go into his own corner to play than having to deal with trying to read all of those signs and signals.

We’ve noticed, though, that as he gets older, he is learning how to seek out connections with people. If he sees a child his age with a T-shirt on with a recognized and loved character from a video game or movie, he’ll go out of his way to talk to that child. In waiting rooms, if someone is playing a game he recognizes, he’ll engage that kid in conversation about the game.

There was a time when I didn’t expect him to really have a close relationship with anyone other than Jeb. Now I know how terribly wrong I was. He just turned 12 and starts middle school in 3 weeks. I know that there’s someone else walking into that school that likes the same things, understands the subculture Scott loves the same way he does, and will be his friend. Whether he can filter through the noise and lights and activity around him enough to see that person remains to be seen.


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