Autism + food = Argh!

Our son has a small range of food and drink that he’ll acceptably consume and has done for a number of years now. Anything else is considered poison and to be avoided at all costs. There are of course many reasons for this be that routine, fearful of trying something new and super sensitivity to taste and smell. This was also one of signs that confirmed his autism to us before getting a diagnosis. As a baby/toddler he would pretty much eat anything within reason, curry vindaloo for example was not offered, but then suddenly instead of a buttered cheese sandwich he would only eat it without cheese, then without butter and finally not even the bread.

As other foods dropped off his accepted list one by one at around the age of four it settled down to a set range which didn’t change for a couple of years. It consisted of a bowl of porridge every day for breakfast, dry food snacks during the day, some fruit and a handful of set healthy meals in the evening. When out and about the only other food he would accept would be chips from McDonald’s or certain thick chips from a restaurant depending on how they were cooked and their shape. We counted ourselves fortunate as even though it isn’t a big range it’s a relatively healthy one consisting of enough fibre, fruit and vegetables.

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The only real challenge this ever causes us is when going away on holiday as we need to take all of Jake’s food with us. This usually consists of my wife and I sacrificing certain items so that we can squeeze in enough food for the holiday and still get under the baggage allowance. Who needs spare shoes and sun tan lotion anyway… The food is always spread over three suit cases just incase one gets lost to avoid a complete disaster. It’s probably always raised an eyebrow or two at the airport but only once have we had to persuade customs to let us keep all of it. After explaining the situation the kind person at U.S.  Customs allowed us to keep his pot meal dinners as long as we didn’t put the leftovers down the waste disposal.

Since his six birthday, almost a year ago now, he’s alarmingly been going backwards. There’s been a few positives with him eating ice cream for the first time, randomly eating a slice of bread whilst laughing to himself and always wanting to have a fish finger or sausage on his plate when we’re having them. He’ll happily hold the sausage/fish finger and study it but has never tasted one. Still it’s progress. However, he’s now stopped eating yogurts, Oatcakes, Crackers, Mini Crackers, Salt & Vinegar French Fries and McDonald’s chips. Apples and grapes also appear to be on the verge of being permanently on the banned list. This has led to a very small range that he will now eat if and he gives up any more it will cause a serious issue with him having a healthy diet.

As well as refusing to eat food he used to love he also can’t stand the sight or smell of them or others. If I were to eat a bag of the salt and vinegar crisps he’ll now jump on the sofa with his back to me and cover his face with his hands until I’m finished. As soon as I’m finished he’ll take the empty bag and put it in the bin and then he can relax again. Even though I tell him he doesn’t have to eat them he’s still upset and on edge at that fact they’re in the same room. When out at restaurants now he’ll sit on the chair with his back to us covering his face until we’ve finished eating where once he’d happily sit and eat food we’d brought with us and play with his toys. After finishing our dinner we now have to wait for dessert until he’s finished eating the poppadoms we brought with us.

IMG_9869The worst experience recently was when we went to the drive thru McDonald’s near our home. He used to love getting a happy meal. He only ever ate the chips but loved the toy and enjoyed choosing whether to include a burger or nuggets. As we pulled up to the restaurant we asked him if he wanted a happy meal and he kept shaking his head, he’s non-verbal, and got upset pointing to home. Despite telling him he didn’t have to get one and mummy and daddy were going to get something for themselves he became increasingly upset. This carried on until we got home where he went screaming and crying into the house before trying to take our meals away and put them in the bin. He eventually calmed down and went back to his old self as soon as we’d finished and the wrappers were disposed of.

Even though Jake is unable to speak he’s very good at communicating but on issues such as this he’s unable to get across why he doesn’t eat certain foods or can’t stand them near him. I suspect his senses have changed and certain smells are too much for him as well as textures. Some of it could be behavioral though but I can’t be sure. I think the time has come now for us to seek some professional help as we need him to start eating different types of foods again for his health and to tolerate others for his own benefit as it will prevent him from going to places in the future.

Other parents might say well don’t give him anything else until he eats what you want him failing to understand how hard it is for him. I know if we said there’s nothing else to he’s eaten a new type of food he’d starve and end up at hospital on a drip. We’ve tried bribery promising him new toys/etc. but to no avail. I just wish there was more I could do as food is yet another big hurdle for our little dude to overcome…

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