The Holidays, Christmas, or whatever you want to call it… This is a time for celebration, a time to love and have fun with family and deal with all the glory that is Autism food aversion. Fun fun.
Sitting down at your dinner table and putting that Christmas meal in front of the pesky picky eater and begging them to eat. You try to bargain, you try bribing, you try the old “if you don’t eat, you don’t get ice cream,” or whatever. You name it, Autism parents have tried it. And believe it or not, the picky eating isn’t even the worst part of the scenario. The worst part is when the family members of yours, who don’t have Autistic kids (or any kids, for that matter) start giving you advice on what you should be doing instead. I’m sure most of you have heard some form of “if they are really hungry they would eat it…” or “it’s because you just let them have what they want most of the time” or the ever popular “they are being a brat,” or “they are controlling you..” As if any advice they are going to give hasn’t already crossed your mind at one time or another, before you ever did any research to learn what Autism really is.
So let’s start with what food aversion really is. Using the term “picky” is not accurate, in my opinion. Picky implies that they could eat it and simply choose not to. When it is Autism related, it has nothing to do with them just being picky. Food aversion for those on the spectrum, more often than not, has to do with sensory issues. Sensory meaning texture, smell, taste, look, etc. And when it does not have to do with sensory issues, one must consider a large list of other things… such as are they having a rough day, are they close to a meltdown, are they stressed in any way that could lead to a meltdown… something like that. It is NEVER simple when it comes to Autism, at least not to the untrained eye. And then there is also the part where once they decide to not eat… there isn’t a thing in the world that can change their mind. Getting an ASD kiddo out of a specific mindset is incredibly difficult. And all of that aside, there is also the part where many on the spectrum think they are not hungry when they actually are, or don’t know they are hungry until they are STARVING, or simply just don’t get hungry for long periods of time. Like I said, it’s friggin complicated.
I’m going to go ahead and add what Autism really is, just for some background for those who have no idea. Autism is not bad behavior, it is not something a child can control. An Autistic individual has a differently wired brain than someone who is non Autistic. This means that information that comes through to the brain is in many cases unfiltered or over filtered, depending on the individual, and this accounts for overly sensitivities to things like sound, lights texture, (or under-sensitivity) and that is only a small part of it. There are other things, social communication problems and such, but that is nothing to do with this particular post. To learn more about Autism, click here.
In my own situation, I have a nearly four year old Autistic girl, whom I have lovingly dubbed The Destructo Beast. She is incredibly “picky”. Many Autism parents know how difficult it can be. This young lady will only eat a few things, which I can usually count on one hand, but also, it changes, what she eats one day she wont eat the next. So it isn’t like there is anything set as backup just in case she doesn’t eat. It is ALWAYS trial and error. She also has some pretty severe sensory issues, especially to sound and texture (when it comes to food and clothing), and I suspect there is a bit of OCD in there somewhere because food cannot EVER touch or she wont eat… even if she likes what is presented to her.
With that being said, I’m going to address some of the common things people say, when they have no idea what food aversion is.
“If she was really hungry she would eat it.” — No. Just no. An ASD individual would rather go hungry than eat sensory offensive food. I guess the only way I can explain this is if someone put the grossest thing in front of you, on a plate, and told you to eat it. And this something gross is so disgusting that you literally cannot swallow it, because it is horrid in texture, smell, and looks awful all at once. A plate of slimy worms or dog shit. Could you eat that? Even if you were really hungry, would you eat that? I highly doubt it.
“She wont eat now because you just let her have whatever she wants all the time.” — Saying that to an Autism parent is pretty much a slap in the face. For one, you are making a judgment based on one moment that you happen to be privy to. For two, you have NO IDEA what it is like at home. And for three, a parent of an Autistic child HAS tried just about EVERYTHING to get their child to eat food that is good for them. Do you seriously think that we are such pushovers that don’t give a crap about our kids so we just give them what they want to make it easier on ourselves? If you think that you don’t know us at all. It is a constant BATTLE to try to get our kids to eat. And after we try and try again, we do get to the point where we decide to pick our battles. But that does not mean that we have given up and given in, it is simply that we are trying subtler approaches, that take time and patience, and results don’t show over night. For me in particular, and I’m guessing this is probably common, during the holidays the last thing we want to do is fuss and fight with our kids, especially at someone else’s house, so for THEIR (the child and the person who owns the house we are visiting) sake, not our own, we let them slide this once.
“She is trying to control you.” — No, at most, they are trying to control their own situation, by NOT eating something that is sensory offensive. OR they have had a full day of sensory input and have reached their limit and sometimes no food will be good then… because THEN they are EXTRA sensitive.
There are many, many more. The child is not a brat when trying to avoid eating something that is uncomfortable, or even painful, to eat. As someone who has some pretty heavy food aversions, even as an adult, I can understand how difficult it is for that child… the one whom you might call a brat and/or judge that parent.
If you have an autistic individual in your family, or even know someone else who does, I urge you to do your research. LEARN about Autism, please, for the sake of those on the spectrum and their caregivers. And do the rest of us a favor and STOP comparing Autistic kids to non Autistic kids. The two are non-comparable. It IS up to the non Autistic to learn about Autism, it is up to YOU to learn to accept Autistic individuals for who they are, and not try to mold them into something they may never be. That does not mean they are not capable, it means that accommodations need to be made, tailored to the individual to help them learn, grow, and succeed.
And if you are ever in doubt, ASK an Autistic or a parent of an Autistic. We are more than happy to explain and help.