How did lasagna turn into potato platter or how to improve the eating habits of autistic children?
If you are interested in autism, you may have heard or read about a selective and very poor diet of autistic children. Some autistic children have atypical eating habits from birth, others, entering their second year of life, stop eating their favorite foods and start resisting any new food. One of the most striking traits of autism is its sensitivity to taste, smell and texture of food. Specialists note that in such a case, it is of utmost importance to avoid offering food forcibly and punishing non-serving food, believing that the child will start eating when “really hungry”. The latter approach might work for a typical child, but certainly not for the autistic. In one way or another these children have an unbalanced feeling of hunger. Some people experience excessive eating while others may starve until they are given food. This sensitivity has been shown to decrease with age, especially in children with mild autism, otherwise Asperger’s syndrome. However, while their child is young, parents are facing real challenges, at least trying to offer a wide variety of food options. It would certainly be worth consulting with nutritionists at this place, who could give you good advice on what foods are high in nutrition and what your child might try, given his or her eating habits and tolerance for a particular texture and taste.
It is also important to understand that an autistic child may refuse certain foods not only because of their taste or smell but also because of the psychological aspects and certain associations that food causes him or her. We often hear that a child eats only bananas from a certain package that he or she is familiar with, sometimes refuses tasting it because it is yellow color and yellow causes negative emotions for him or her. One adult autistic guy told me about the tragedy he had over family dinners when tables were breaking from a variety of dishes. There was something terrible about him seeing potatoes, meat and salad in one dish. And what about dessert choices … He would get so badly confused that it would turn into a meltdown. He didn’t know how to say it to his family members for a long time, and his loved ones didn’t know for long what had happened. Here’s a friend of mine who recently told me that her son’s Lithuanian salad made from potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peas was a terrible nightmare. ☺ I think these two examples perfectly illustrate why autistic people do not like sandwiches, snack plates and the usual dinner tables. However, an autistic child is best served with one type of food and should not be surprised or prevented from sitting away from everyone, because he will certainly feel better and more comfortable: he will not be disturbed by the variety of colors, shapes, types and smells. Neither do I. After all, it is better for the child to eat calmly and without stress, rather than sitting with everyone just because it seems polite and normal. In the book “AUTISM: 365 Different Days” many moms have noted that a child cannot stand when he is forced to do something. If you are obsessively trying to suggest to a child something that he or she has repeatedly refused to eat, then it is worth giving up that thought for at least a while. If you decide that something needs to be done, you should only take action when you feel that the child is in a good mood, relaxed, rested and you know that there are no external stimuli that may disturb him or her. Getting to know a new food first might just be placing it on a plate in a place your child can see. The easiest thing to do is to start with a dish that your child can smell or snack and not chew or swallow. For example, we started with blended soup. Many moms point out (and I am no exception) that autistic children love orange soup. My son, seeing me shaving potatoes, carrots or slicing onions, asks me ten times if he won’t have to eat them. Of course, I assure him that he certainly is not. When I make a soup that I still add chicken or any meat, I try to make sure he won’t see the process of making it. Also, to make it as orange as possible, I don’t spare carrots and pumpkin … If you could see how hapily and relaxed he is when eating such a soup … ☺ Here is another example: as you know, most autistic children love pasta. On one trip abroad, my husband and I were in complete despair because our son had eaten nothing but the pasta he was familiar with. Since we were staying at the hotel, I had no opportunity to make for example the soup he is familiar with. We bought the lasagna saying it was a big flat pasta. It was an innocent lie, because only that flat noodle on top was visible… My boy first smelled it and apparently the smell appeared to him similar. I didn’t even bother to put the meat in the spoon at first because it would have been the first and last attempt. Meanwhile, as I tried to pin a piece of lasagna on top, my husband talked to the boy trying to divert his attention from the plate. As soon as he tasted it, he thought for a few seconds and said it was delicious. We remember that day as a miracle because he had eaten all the lasagna, even with my hidden pieces of meat! And so far, this dish is one of his favorites. Taking advantage of this, after a while I baked the potato bake, trying to make it look like the shape of a favorite lasagna. Since he likes to put sour cream on everything, I said that I bake lasagna and put sour cream on it. He was in a good mood that day and he didn’t mind the idea. Before tasting the first bite, he made sure ten times that lasagna was here. And he gave it a try! My autistic son liked it and said the magic word DELICIOUS again… After a few successful times, I started telling him that this lasagna is called a “kugelis” (traditional Lithuanian potato bake).
I was once told by one dad of an already autistic adult person that as he was entering his teenage years, his son expressed his protest by starting to eat everything and especially what he didn’t like as a child. Imagine other teenagers of his age trying to smoke, drinking alcohol, and this guy expressed his protest by eating a proper nutricious food… ☺ I am sooooo looking forward to this teenage protest! … ☺