However, before Thanksgiving, I had asked Sunday, the incredibly awesome blogger mom who writes at Adventures in Extreme Parenthood, to write me something about how "picky eating" is a completely different ballgame with an autistic kid. It was inspired by me once having tweeted something about Child 1 not being able to eat anything without ketchup on it, and getting a response along the lines of "my kid puts ketchup on everything, does that mean he has autism, too?" That was a while ago, but it has festered in my brain ever since, even before the #youmightbeanautismparent awesomeness. I have 2 kids who are picky eaters, you see, and they both like to put ketchup on their food, but... it's different. It's different in a way that I don't think I'm capable of explaining, which is why I had to ask for help.
And on that note.... here's Sunday.....
Your kid is picky, my kid is Stalin.
One of the easiest ways to piss off an autism parent is to chime in after every struggle they voice with, "Well, my Johnny does that too!"
Case in point: The ever-popular "Which mom's kid is the pickiest eater" debate.
And to clarify... I WIN.
Or to be more exact, every single parent who has a child with autism (or other special need) will win that debate or ANY debate over the frustrations of child rearing. But not because we want to win it. Because the facts are so strongly evident in our favor.
My older son, Sam, is eight years old and since the age of 18 months he has eaten these foods:
- Grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Animal crackers (but only a certain brand)
- Pretzels (none of those sneaky stick shapes! ONLY the traditional pretzel shape)
- Homemade chocolate chip cookies (which I bake on a weekly basis)
No candy, no ice cream cones, no birthday cake, cotton candy, or any of the other sweets most children beg and plead for ad nauseam.
Unfortunately, this means that he also will not eat any of the items typical children hate, such as: brussel sprouts, spinach, carrots, liver and onions, and anything with the word VITAMIN FORTIFIED blazing across the front of the package.
His younger brother, Noah, who is six has very much the same type of diet. However, he will at least eat bananas and a handful of other toddler-friendly foods like Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks.
Neither of my sons will eat anything that requires the use of a spoon or a utensil. If you offer them one they will either use it as a drum or throw it across the room aiming for the cat laying on the corner of your couch. So, it would be best to just keep those forks and spoons to yourself.
By far the WORST thing anyone can say to me (or any special needs parent) about their child's picky eating is this,
"You know Dr. Phil (my pediatrician, my grandmother, God almighty himself) said that if you just serve them wholesome, well-rounded meals three times a day they will eat it if they get hungry enough."
To which I would reply..... "You wanna bet?!"
When Sam was five years old and had been on his sandwich & cookie diet for three years straight his Pediatrician suggested I give him regular foods for each of his meals and in her words, "Chances are he'll get hungry after a day or two and give in"
Once again I replied..... "Wanna bet?!"
After three days I called the Pediatrician to check in and told her he still wasn't eating. She suggested I keep going. So, I made sure he had plenty of fluids and I kept offering him things like Eggo waffles for breakfast, mac and cheese with a side of apple slices for lunch, and for dinner something HORRIBLE like pizza and ice cream for dessert. He wouldn't eat any of it. Not.A.Bite.
After five days the Pediatrician told me to stop and give him the sandwiches and cookies he had grown accustomed to. She apologized and agreed that clearly this self-limited diet was much more than just a case of being picky about food. She said that clearly this was more of a phobia. Very rare, but not unheard of in children with autism.
In the years since then we've chosen to deal with this situation by not dealing with it. In other words, parenting is all about picking your battles. Even parents of special needs kids have deal breakers...for instance, fecal smearing. My boys both went through that stage and they learned really fast that Mommy is NOT happy and it is NOT okay. But, picky eating is one battle I am choosing not to fight. If Sam and Noah want to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four years straight that is A-OK with me. But shitting on my couch and spreading it on the walls will get you 86'd from my living room faster than you can say, "Don't squeeze the Charmin".
The point is that a parent of a child with special needs doesn't want to have their frustrations invalidated by someone insisting that their child does the exact same things...because they don't. Not on the same level that our children do and not coupled with dozens of other challenging behaviors all happening at the same time every day with no end in sight.
What we do want to hear is "Wow, that sounds really tough." and leave it at that.