Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Autistic kids are known to have a variety of sensory issues. Some are sensitive to fabrics, which can make getting dressed and living in a non-nudist society a real torture. Others, like Martin, are keenly aware of different food textures and tastes. Martin eats less than a dozen things: PB&J sandwiches, plain spaghetti, bread, a few veggies, a few fruits, and chocolate ice cream. Let's just say that Martin doesn't get a lot of pleasure out of food. He will not be in line to see the Julia Child movie (and not just because he's afraid of women over 6 feet tall).

We've dealt with Martin's food issues in two ways. For a little while, we were short order cooks, something we had always disdained before we were parents ourselves, something we swore we would never do. This approach didn't last long, not only because we found it so ridiculous, but also it didn't seem to be helping Martin. So we tried what might be called a loving and inclusive approach (yes, I'm being a little ironic). Every night, we cook a dinner that we want to eat, but one that isn't too out there for not-so-adventurous kids. We always put bread and butter on the table. Most nights, Martin refuses the main dish. But he'll eat the veggie and a little fruit, along with bread. He also takes a vitamin (a victory in itself as he refused to do it for quite awhile). We had read that if you keep serving your child a regular meal, night after night, some day they will want to be like you and they will start eating what you're eating. We read about this strategy more than a year ago. If anything, Martin's diet has grown more limited. Eggs, yogurt, and rice are now off his list.

I was ready for a dramatic change of events. One on par with our toilet training of Martin, which involved getting rid of all the diapers one day and staying home until Martin started using the toilet. It took four days. In my mind, we would rid the house of everything he liked. Eventually he'd have to eat something, right? A little rice? Maybe some hamburger? Broccoli, even? But my husband read about a different approach, one advocated by people working with autistic kids. We tried it tonight. Let's call it Operation Chicken.

We started with a social story about eating chicken. Social stories involve words and pictures that introduce new ideas to the autistic child. Here's the story I wrote (Pulitzer committee, I await your call): "Sometimes, I don't want to try new foods. Today, I will try a new food. When I eat a bit of chicken, I can have chocolate ice cream." Each line of the story had a little drawing. So my story had a picture of a child eating, a picture of a chicken, and a picture of an ice cream cone. Martin read the story. We put one bite of chicken on his plate. ONE FRICKIN' BITE, PEOPLE! It was awful. He asked for the ice cream over and over. He refused the chicken over and over. My husband was committed to Operation Chicken, but after an hour he chose to abort. We'll try again tomorrow night.

I'll say only one thing more. Lots of people like to recommend lactose-free and gluten-free diets for autistic kids. If you want to remain my friend, don't ever suggest this to me. My kid eats about 8 things. 6 of them fall in the lactose and gluten category. If I had to deal with an even more limited diet, I might denounce my pacifism and rip someone's head off.

Sorry, readers. I'm kinda sore about Operation Chicken. I hope Rumsfield feels like this about Iraq.

1 comment:

  1. Operation Chicken sounds really tough for all involved but maybe it will take. My little sister went through a year or so (around age 3) where she would only eat kraft pimento cheese on crackers and dry cheerios. Go figure. The pediatrician kept saying she'd eat something else eventually but it was a LONG year for my parents. I'll send positive poultry vibes your way and hope for the best.