Take hash-browns, baked beans and sausage. Offer to one autistic five year-old, for breakfast.
He’d got upset the night before because we didn’t have sausage for dinner, so my husband thought he’d like it for breakfast. But now it’s a very anxious “no sausage, no sausage!”. That’s fine, only put baked beans and hash-browns on the plate. Unfortunately, some hash-brown touched the baked-beans at one point, making those pieces inedible according to our son. The inedible pieces can’t be left on the plate though, or even on mum or dad’s plate, they must be put out of sight into the bin.
He’s very clear that he wants only a spoon and fork, no knife. The fork gets dirty (ie, it touches food) at one stage and must be cleaned straight away. Not licked clean, not just put out of sight, but cleaned properly so there is no trace of food on it anymore, but then left on the table beside his plate again. Later I make the oversight of using the fork to assist him in the aim of scooping beans onto his spoon. That of course upsets him again. At least he now has beans on a spoon and can get them to his mouth.. right..?
Beans make it to his lips where he has a pretend nibble of a single bean, then lowers the spoon carefully to his plate and gets up to leave the table, anxiously saying over and over “cold cold, timer”. He’s trying to say that he wants his food to be cold, not warm. And believe me, by this stage, the food barely counts as luke warm, and is very close to cold after the various theatrics. But fine, I tell him that’s OK and he leaves the table, having only eaten a couple of small pieces of the hash-brown, using his fingers. He doesn’t return to his plate.
I feel like a poor mother on the days that I can barely get him to eat. I console myself with the fact that I can get a kid’s multivitamin into him each night, and he drinks enough chocolate milk and juice that I know he’s getting a fair dose of calcium and vitamin C. I worry about him being under-weight, but the last time we saw his developmental pediatrician she told me he was doing OK, that she was more concerned about the number of children she sees who are over-weight. It never crossed my mind when I had a child, that I would have to worry about him not eating enough, in an age when obesity is said to be at “epidemic” proportions. I’d rather have to stop him eating non-stop than struggle to get him to eat at all (but I’m guessing the mums with obese children would say the opposite just as passionately). So I’m willing to do a few crazy things, like avoid foods touching each other and making sure grapes don’t have any tiny bits of skin sticking up on them, just to get him to open that mouth.
Thankfully, my neurotypical one year-old is a vacuum cleaner, and will attempt to eat both the inedible and edible without much distinction. My five year-old frequently gives him the food he doesn’t want, which can make it difficult sometimes to keep track of what both children have actually eaten through-out the day. At least that’s one family member who enjoys these daily food fights.