Autism: The Elephant In The Boat


Autism is the craziest food critic I have ever met.  Impressed by nothing and  limited to a increasingly small menu, kiddos on the spectrum do not make meal time easy…not by a long shot.  I try to respect my kids’ wants and likes and have been a pretty mellow food mom for the most part.  Over the years, years from my own childhood and theirs, I have had the opportunity to sit in many boats and hang with many clubs of food thought. I have never ascribed to the ‘clean your plate’ club philosophy of forcing all food devoured, no matter the drama involved because, well, that’s just crazy.  As a kid it didn’t make sense to me and it still doesn’t now so I don’t go there.  When you’re full, you’re full…right?  I have also never liked the “eat whatever you want whenever you want” kind of philosophy that lets kiddos just eat junk.  Both those boats can be sold off right now because, to me, they are both faulty boats.

The other less faulty boat I tried to sit in for a while was the one I came to hear about while living in Ohio.  A friend invited us for dinner and I heard them talking about the “no thank-you helping.”  I was curious.  I watched my friend spoon a very small portion of the offending food right on to her daughter’s plate.  Hmmm.  I never said anything but thought to myself it was a darn clever idea.

Though my oldest child, my daughter, has always been a very good and adventurous eater, my spectrum kiddo who is my middle child, has not.  He was aspiring to be a member of the boat that only ate chicken nuggets and french fries like most kiddos and I was fighting it as best I could.  It was a tough fight and he is a formidable opponent.  So, sitting at that table…I did it!  I bought that boat right then and there and I sat right down. I owned that boat and became the queen of the “no thank-you helping” brigade.  Me and my three kiddos were going to become “no thank-you helping” crew members.

That boat sailed right along (and fairly well I might add) until the spectrum kiddo started nearing those teen years.   Not quite in them but he was hovering.  We were eleven when my boat sprung a leak.  Not that kind of pin prick that trickles with water kind of leak.  Oh goodness no.  This was that kind of “oh my goodness, did an elephant land here?” kind of hole in our boat.  It was the elephant-ish version of big.

We were at grandmas house and it was both the  zucchini and watermelon that he refused to eat.  I get the whole zucchini thing but the watermelon just got me good. I could not imagine how a kiddo, any kiddo, could detest watermelon.  I mean, seriously, w-a-t-e-r-m-e-l-o-n!  So, being me and the lovely autism mom I wasn’t really being that day, I thumped my foot down in the bottom of the “no thank-you helping” boat and made my ‘no thank-you helping” declaration.  We will try the watermelon AND the zucchini.  My boy is pretty even tempered most of the time these days and we have done this before so he didn’t protest at all.  I cut a very small piece of both items, no bigger than a dime mind you, and gave them to my boy.  He swallowed them down, cringed a bit and did the nasty-medicine-head-shake just before he drank a LOT of Gatorade to cover the taste.

“See? It’s not bad.  People actually like this stuff.”  Is what I told him as he devoured the Gatorade.  He, on the other hand, was not impressed or convinced.  He looked at me and with hardly a tone in his voice, said, “Okay,”  neither in disagreement or approval.  And that would have been the end of the conversation and my boat would have continued to float nicely with no hole in it if it had not been for the elephant that fell through the middle of it that night, right after kiddos were showered, jammied and nicely tucked into a warm and snuggly bed.

That is when I heard the peaceful sweetness of my night shattered by the sound of vomit being blasted out of my son’s body as the elephant landed hard.  I’d like to say it was the sound of vomit flowing into the toilet but it wasn’t.  In the middle of his own confusion,  his aim was a bit off and he hit the bathroom door dead on and the chunks that were once nice and tidy inside my son’s body were no longer tidy at all.  The chunks were sloppily cascading in all their red wonder down the front side of my bathroom door.  The next wave hit the bathroom rug but, by the third wave of flying chunks, my boy found his aim and the toilet.  Right here is where I will put your fears at rest by saying that though my bathroom was now cloaked in red and chunks that were flowing in creek beds about my bathroom, doors and floors, it was not blood.   It was red from the hot dogs he had eaten that night.  Somewhere in his body, the hot dogs, the watermelon and the zucchini did not get along well at all.

After fifteen years of parenting and three kiddos under my belt who have all had various illnesses and virus’, I can say in complete honesty, this was the worst sick-mess I have ever seen.  Red muck everywhere my eyes landed as I scanned the bathroom scenery.

As I surveyed the mess and tried to soothe my boy who didn’t understood what was going on any more than me, I set a warm shower to flowing and let him step in to warm up and wash off while I continued to wonder if there really was a best way to make the red mucky mess go away.  I picked up a handful of towels along with some sanitizer and began to clean doors, door handles as well as sinks, walls, floors and the poor shoes that happened to be an innocent victim in the line of fire.  As I cleaned up as quietly as I could (because I did not need the two remaining sleeping children to wake and walk into the red mucky mess or to begin throwing up themselves at the sight and smell), I realized that, in the mess, the still-dime-sized piece of zucchini and the sliver of watermelon were sitting in the middle of all the red muck.  As pretty as you please, completely undigested, as dime sized as ever and staring boldly right up at me.

That was when the elephant fell completely through the bottom of the boat and the boat sank.  Good bye forever.  The elephant made its point and I declared to my son right there, as he let the warm water clean away the red mucky mess, there would be no more “no thank-you helpings”…e-v-e-r.

Moving forward from that lovely night, I discovered that my boy is wired differently.  No, no…I have known he brain is wired differently for a long time and that is not news to me.  What I discovered that night and since, as I have watched him gag and his eyes water as he attempts to eat foods like citrus and a few other offenders, is that his taste buds are wired differently too.  Seriously.  The boy will eat bananas and apples but I believe oranges and grapes, as well as berries and a few others, actually hurt his mouth.  He honestly gags as the tears roll down his face.  I used to think he was just playing games with me but, anymore, autism is a funny friend and I given in to the fact that there are things I will not fully understand and yet they will still be true.  We currently sit in the “I’ll provide healthy food choices and you eat which ones you like” boat and that’s working just fine.  No elephants allowed or needed!  You can see where the alternative got me and I am not going back to that bathroom of the red mucky mess e-v-e-r again.

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