Last night, my son ate two huge plates of lasagna and french bread. He ate more than me. I was so excited that I took to Twitter to celebrate. A lot of people out there don’t understand why that’s such a big deal, so I thought that I would share with you why we care so much.
When Benjamin was a baby, he ate all the normal baby foods. He ate fruits and vegetables and starches. He ate the mixed together Gerber meals with proteins. Heck, he pretty much ate anything and everything with a Gerber label on it.
As he reached toddler age, however, he began to refuse a lot of food. We started noticing that certain textures would cause a gag reflex in him, and certain foods just made him sick in other ways.
By the time Benjamin was around six years old, he had stopped eating almost everything. His main diet consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Poptarts, and pudding cups. Every once in a while we could get him to eat a hamburger and, if we were lucky, he’d eat a bowl of rice.
It was at that time that I grew very concerned. I worried that my son wouldn’t develop properly if he didn’t start eating, but I didn’t know what to do. I started researching and talking to my son’s therapist and we tried quite a few therapy techniques to get him to eat new foods. But things just weren’t working out so I went and saw our pediatrician. The short version of that conversation went something like this…
“I know kids with autism can be difficult, but this is crazy. All he will eat is peanut butter and jelly. Day and night, that is all he wants. Oh, and Poptarts… And maybe a pudding now and then.”
“Rebecca, if all he will eat is peanut butter sandwiches then you give him peanut butter sandwiches. Three times a day if you need to. Load up the peanut butter so he gets protein. Feed him Poptarts and pudding, too. Give him what he will eat because he needs to eat. And let’s give him a multivitamin with it.”
My mind was blown. I’m not sure what I expected at the time, but it wasn’t to be told to load up on the peanut butter. After all, we live in a world where parents of neurotypical children were constantly telling me to just make one thing and eventually my son would get hungry enough that he would eat it.
“He won’t starve,” they said.
Only… They were wrong. Autism does things to people.
My son is the kid that will starve.
My son is the kid who would go for days without eating if he wasn’t presented with very particular foods. It was almost scary. As a mom, I felt like I was a total failure. I’d watch friends give their kids everything from chicken and salmon to gourmet pasta and salads. And their kids would eat it all. Meanwhile, I was loading up another peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and it had to be raspberry jelly, anything else and he would refuse it. It’s always been raspberry jelly.
As Benjamin got older, he started eating a few more items. Bread became a sort of obsession for him. Rolls of all types were especially pleasing to him. We’d go to events where people would cook hotdogs and my son would only eat the bun. It’s amazing how much that freaks out people, by the way.
He liked certain desserts, too. Most kids do. But let me tell you, when you attend things like church potluck dinners and people make comments about how your kid only eats rolls and brownies, well, it can wear you down quickly.
Eventually, Benjamin started trying some bits and pieces of meat here and there. He discovered that he enjoys chicken and steak and hamburgers quite a bit.
And now, at age thirteen, Benjamin eats much more than he used to. However, he is still quite particular. Certain textures still cause him to gag and certain foods are just not an option for him. He also still eats peanut butter and jelly almost every day. Only recently has he branched out at lunchtime to try things like Hot Pockets. Breakfast has changed from Poptarts to something called Zbars (protein bars for kids), and he enjoys snacking on granola bars. And dinners have included more options lately, too.
I know much of what he eats is processed garbage, but we have come so far on this food journey that I really don’t care. He’s eating. And lately, he’s eating a lot.
That brings me back to last night…
I made lasagna and we had french bread with it. Normally, Benjamin will eat the bread and pick the meat out of the lasagna sauce while leaving everything else. But last night he sat down and just started eating. He ate an entire plate, looked up at me, and said, “Can I have more? A bigger amount?”
Bigger? More? More and Bigger!!!
I got him more. He ate it all. Every last bite of it!
I almost cried. I can’t help it. That is what I do lately. I cry those happy tears of a mom who sees her kid moving forward, growing, advancing, and trying new things.
Yes, food is that important!
So I celebrated. He ate the lasagna and I wanted to tell the world… Because that’s a small victory deserving of a big deal being made about it.