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He’ll eat when he’s hungry

February 10, 2013

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“He’ll eat when he’s hungry”  So are the words of advice from everyone, everywhere.  Yep, when he’s hungry enough he’ll just eat whatever is in-front of him.  Well that didn’t work for my son.  Not in the least.  We tried everything.  He was the only child I ever saw that would reject french fries.  AND if he did accidentally get one in his mouth, he would gag and vomit.  He had a limited list of food he would eat….. pancakes, grilled cheese sandwich, peanut butter and jelly~strawberry jelly only~ “orange” chips, Toaster Scrambles (he calls *egg and cheese*) stick pretzels, milk, water and shockingly enough… pediatric protein drinks.   Any food or drink not on this list was a NO GO.  He could sit for hours in his high chair with a plate full of food and not touch one single item.  If we could even get him to take a bite of something other than what was on his list, gagging was what would happen.  He truly acted like the food was poisoned or rotten.  And as time when on, his list of foods began to become even more restrictive. He would just stop eating an item, for no reason.  I talked to his Autism specialist about it and I admitted that I was so focused on getting him help with his other issues that I let his eating take a back seat.  To be honest it was just easier to make him the same exact thing everyday and not have meal time turn into tears and meltdowns.

Many people believe that eating is completely instinctual and that no matter what happens, a child will eat.  This is another myth in the food world.  Actually instincts only start the process, and that is if you are lucky enough not to have your instincts not interfered with by prematurity, a physical disorder, or disruptive procedures needed for survival.  Eating is, in reality, a learned behavior.  Just as children learn to eat, so can children be taught to not eat by the circumstances of their lives.

*From “When Children Won’t Eat: Understanding the Why’s and How to Help.  By” Kay A Toomey, PH.D.

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When he was around a year old.. he stopped eating a lot of different foods.  And with time, it became worse.  It’s like he “lost” something.  He still loved his formula and on a whim I tried giving him a pediatric protein drink.  He loved it.  And LOVES  them so much still that I have to limit him to 1 a day.  I have relied on those to fill in the gaps with his nutrition.  But in the back of my mind I knew he had to start eating.  We would have to tackle this issue.  I knew what wouldn’t work:   Forcing him to eat, getting angry,  threats about losing toys or games, going to bed hungry, sitting there until he ate it… none of that worked.  And frankly I was worried about creating MORE issues around food for him.  Plus making meal time miserable took its toll on all of us.

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One day while my son was at his socialization class, I mentioned in passing to his teacher that he had horrible food jags.  His teacher told me that she taught a “food class” that could teach him how to eat again.  Oh Hurray!!!  She explained to me that research has shown with Autistic children, something can happen with their sensory interaction with food between the ages of 8-18 months.   And re-teaching them to interact with food helps to get them over this and try new things without the horrible reactions.   SIGN US UP!   Just hearing this explanation, a sense of relief washed over me.  Something could be done!!!  And armed with this information I was able to “educate” some other people who still thought we should force food on him.  And let me tell you, I have had to eat a lot of my own words….  I was one that told other parents to not make a separate meal for their children, that their children should eat what everyone else was eating!  Ha!!!!  Karma!!!  Oh what Autism has taught me!  So we started the food class and with his teachers guiding during that first class, he actually bit into a piece of beef jerky.  I was stunned…. shocked.. could have knocked me over…. Wow!  And when we got home from that first class, he popped a black olive slice into his mouth, chewed it up and swallowed!  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!

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I will always remember the black olives.. always..  And what I have learned is to always make meal time, (really anything around food) as positive as possible.  He’s relearning his relationship with food.  We start slowly, with putting things on his plate.. he doesn’t have to eat it, it just needs to be there.  Then touching it, then smelling it, then maybe licking it or biting it, then chewing it up and swallowing it.  A long process for sure, but it works!!!!  He’s even started to eat things that he gave up over the past year without going through the steps, like waffles.   He has started to bring me the jar of pickles and asks to have one. Unbelievable!!  I’ve even heard reports from preschool that he has taken 2 bites out of a chicken nugget.  Will wonders ever cease?    It’s so fantastic to have something click.. and work.. and hit milestones that may seem small to others but are HUGE for us.  I know we are so lucky to have the people in our lives like his teacher and his doctor that know what they are doing and truly care about his progress.  Blessed.. very blessed.

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