Autism, Food, and Weighty Parenting Issues
As a child I struggled with food. Texture issues and a strong gag reflex made meals a chore. I didn’t even like going over to friends’ houses because I was afraid of what food they might serve.
Food at school was another challenge. In those days, we took turns bringing snacks for the class. One girl brought bananas every time, which was about every other week. On her snack day I would spend all morning unable to focus on school work, unable to think about anything else except that stupid banana. During snack I had to listen to the teacher talk about how stubborn I was for refusing to eat. Then I would be left inside all alone, staring at my uneaten banana, while the other kids went out for recess.
I still hate bananas. Even the smell gags me.
So you can imagine that when my own children had food issues I decided not to fight them with a head-on attack.
With eldest, that strategy has worked well. We don’t indulge her whims, but don’t make it an issue if she doesn’t eat something. She won’t get a dessert and might go hungry, but I do not belong to the “Clean plate club” or put her leftovers in the fridge for breakfast. On her own, she has begun to try more foods and doesn’t get too stressed out about eating.
But I seem to have created a monster in my other child. Rachel has definite texture and taste issues, along with a powerful gag reflex, which are common in autism. Growing was even a problem for her a few years ago. At age three she still wore 18-month-sized clothes and was at the very bottom of the growth chart. Starting a gluten-free diet made finding food for her even more impossible. I thought she would stay tiny forever.
Today, though, Rachel is at the other end of the growth chart. She has found a few foods, including peanut butter, she will eat. We are faced with a weight issue and I’m not sure what to do about it. Unlike eldest who has adapted to eating more and more foods, Rachel has trained me to feed her what she wants.
I’m not saying Rachel eats junk all the time, but some of the foods she likes are high in fat. I’ve been afraid to rock the boat based on my own childhood issues and on the fact that any fight with Rachel is often like an Olympic triathlon of tantrums and can last for months. I try to pick battles I can win. This is one I am too chicken to even try, and I know the winning will cost me a lot, possibly my sanity. I feel defeated and I haven’t even started yet.
While discussing this with another mom of a special needs child, she pointed out that a battle with food is probably easier than having Rachel develop childhood diabetes due to her weight. She said, “You think fighting about food is bad. Try checking her blood sugar and giving her insulin shots multiple times a day.”
So, I am putting on my big girl pants and praying for wisdom, understanding, grace and stamina. Hubby and I are also being more proactive in getting her outside to play, bike and walk.
Have you had similar battles with your kids? How did you break through?