Before I had children, I was of the mentality that a child eats what's put on the table or they go without. Eventually they will get hungry enough and give in. Then my son Owen was born. After a week he refused to breastfeed. I pumped for six weeks and then switched to formula. With every bottle we would fight him it seemed. At times he had projectile vomiting.
As he grew in age, and transitioned to solids, the challenge of getting him to eat became harder. The first two foods I introduced to him, carrots and peaches, seemed to make him miserable and sick. I called the doctor's office, frantic, questioning my abilities as a mother. Why couldn't I get my son to eat?
Finally at 8 months, we introduced him to Yo Baby Yogurt, per our pediatrician's recommendation. He hadn't been gaining weight. Thankfully he loved it. There were VERY few foods we could get him to eat. For the longest time it seemed that Owen lived off of this yogurt. On occasion he would eat something else, but it was rare. As he became mobile, we resorted to sticking snacks in his toy dump trucks, hoping he would see them and eat them. It worked at times.
By the age of two, Owen would eat whole wheat pasta with sauce, grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade breads, crackers, pizza, and a few other items. Fruits and vegetables were rare, in fact I believe Owen has only eaten vegetables less than a handful of times throughout his entire existence. Still, it seemed Owen would eat one day, and then eat nothing for three days. This pattern seemed endless.
It was at age two that we learned Owen had allergies/intolerances to dairy, wheat, pork, and beef. I was devastated, his entire diet consisted of foods that made him sick. Slowly, I found alternatives that he would eat, and he became free of the allergens. He became a different child, although his eating habits continued to challenge us as parents. We found more allergies/intolerances.
Between the ages of two and three, Owen became extremely particular about his food. Everything he ate was a shade of brown, ranging from cream colored to dark chocolate. Most foods were crunchy. They had to be a specific name brand, or he wouldn't touch them. Thankfully by the age of three, Owen grew out of his wheat allergy/intolerance and that provided us with many more options. Still his eating habits worsened.
When Owen turned four, we said enough was enough. We had learned long ago that we couldn't say eat what's in front of you or go without, because Owen needed to gain weight. Instead we decided that for one week we would have Owen take one bite of one item on his plate, that we were eating, and then he could have whatever he wanted.
Our experiment went horribly wrong. Owen screamed for 90 minutes. He then decided he would take a bite. As the tiniest piece of food touched his tongue he would gag to the point of vomiting. This same scenario continued for a week straight. We gave up and realized something was very wrong.
After making a list of concerns regarding Owen, we took them to our pediatrician. We made a special appointment with him, without children present. It was then that he referred Owen to a Developmental Pediatrician, explaining that we could be looking at something as minor as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or as serious as Autism.
On February 16th of this year, Owen was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. An Autism Spectrum Disorder comes with a completely different kind of special dietary needs. I remember one night going to the grocery store at 11:30 PM because I realized we were out of foods Owen would eat. My cart was filled with Wegman's Berry Corn Crunch, Tyson's Fun Nuggets, Jif Peanut Butter, Smuckers Seedless Strawberry Jam, Ritz Crackers, and Freihofer's White Bread. I felt embarrassed shopping so late at night for such items. I explained to the cashier apologetically that my son had an Autism Spectrum Disorder and these were the only foods he would eat.
His response was a surprise. He nodded with a huge grin, and said knowingly,
"I understand COMPLETELY. My sister has an Autism Spectrum Disorder."
We continued our conversation. It turns out his sister will only eat foods that are green in color. He shared specific name brands, etc...
It turned a very stressful situation into a comforting conversation.
A couple months ago I was told about the movie, Adam. It's about a young single adult with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I remember watching the scene where it showed his freezer and cupboards filled with the same three items that he ate day after day. Part of me laughed and cried all at once. There were a couple other scenes that directly related to food that caused the same reaction.
There are many aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders that are very difficult at times, but personally, I feel the diet is the hardest. Owen will starve himself for three days before he'd ever consider trying something new, and then he still wouldn't try it.
The sight of food causes him stress. I honestly believe if he could avoid food all together he would.
And then comes the controversy of the gluten free, casein free diet. There are other versions of it too. Some doctors recommend it. Some parents swear by it. Others believe they have proof that it makes no difference. Many who don't understand the prescription of it and it's possible benefits think parents of Autism Spectrum Disorder kids are crazy.
Meanwhile parents work endlessly trying to get their Autism Spectrum child to eat.
How did you "discover" the special dietary needs of your child? How did you handle the process of finding things that were, (1) safe and (2) appealing to your child? What has been the hardest part about this process for you? What has been the biggest surprise?
If you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, please share your story, especially as it relates to food issues. What has your experience been with adjusting your child's food intake to modify his or her health/moods/behaviors? What has worked for you? What is still challenging?