Sunday, January 8, 2012

Food For Thought

Food, food, food.  I don't think I have met an Autistic child yet that was not to some degree fixated on food.  Fixated, obsessed, that is what Katie is when it comes to food.  I am not sure where exactly the obsession comes from.  Hunger?  Routine?  Comfort?  I think each of these things contribute to her overwhelming concentration on food.  And I mean overwhelming.  If you ask anyone who has spent any time with Katie, they will say her favorite thing to do is eat.

This can cause problems for many different reasons.  The obvious problem would be weight gain, but right now that is the least of my worries.  Katie is not overweight.....yet.  I am worried that as she grows up, she might have a problem with her weight.  I cannot imagine putting her on a diet, or denying her her favorite foods.  Lately what I have been doing is trying to help her make healthy food choices and keeping her active.  The last few years she has been growing like a weed, but I am worried that when she stops growing taller, the weight will start creeping on.  I don't expect her to be "super model" thin, I just know how many health problems being overweight can contribute to, and I just want her to be healthy.  I also don't want her to feel self-conscious or be teased for being heavy.

One of the reasons I mentioned "routine" as being a contributing factor to Katie's eating, is that she is a "clock watcher" when it comes to meals and snacks.  My father-in-law jokes that her stomach has it's own clock, because she knows when it is lunch time, even if she doesn't know what actual time it is.  We have learned to plan in advance for any sort of trips or excursions that we take.  We have to plan around meal and snack times, and pack food as well.  The quickest way to a meltdown is to tell her we are going into a store, when she knows that we should have eaten 15 minutes ago.  There is no reasoning, no rationalizing, and no "making deals" to get her to calm down when the subject of food is being discussed. 

Other than those with Autism, there are many "picky" eaters, especially children, and also many people with mild to severe food allergies, that have to plan their meals wherever they go. Those with allergies, adults as well, sometimes have to ask specifically what is in the menu items.  I am sure at some point these people have brought their own food to a party or over to someones house they were invited to.  We have to do this on a regular basis.  Katie has eaten many grilled cheese sandwiches for Christmas dinners and  Easter dinners, and has eaten many pieces of pizza for baptism parties and outdoor picnics.  Our families have been wonderful over the years, making sure there is something available for her to eat that she will like.  Why she will only eat certain foods is beyond me.  She actually eats a larger variety now than when she was a little kid, but it still is very limited. 

Probably the biggest problem we have with Katie is that she eats so fast.  She will eat a cheeseburger in three bites if we don't watch her and tell her to slow down.  She doesn't hardly chew, she doesn't breathe, she just basically swallows the food whole.  I am so worried about her choking that we usually end up watching her the whole time she is eating.  When she is finished with her meal, she usually asks for more.  If she eats dinner before the family, she wants to eat again with us when we eat.  If you are eating something she likes, she will either try to talk you out of your food, or she will swipe it when you aren't looking.  I am lucky so far that she hasn't started stealing food out of the cupboard or fridge, but my friend has to actually lock up food from her Autistic daughter so she doesn't eat it all. 

The quickest way to Katie's heart is through her stomach.  One year Santa actually brought her a pizza for Christmas, wrapped it in wrapping paper and put it in the fridge.  Guess what?  That was her favorite present that year, the only thing she asked for that Christmas, and she is still talking about it to this day.  Want to be her favorite aunt?  Bring her to McDonald's for lunch.  Want to be her favorite Grandma?  Bring her a bagel from Tim Horton's for breakfast.  Want to calm her down after a tough day?  Tell her we are going to order a pizza, and better yet, let her help order it online.  Her godmother always includes a bag of Doritos with every gift bag she gives her.  Her aunt sent her Cheeze-Its in a care package to 5th grade camp.  Both grandparents keep a supply of her favorite snacks on hand.  Her uncle was the best ever when he took her to a Red Wings game, in a suite that had an all you can eat buffet.  I think she liked the buffet better that the game.  On her birthday another aunt treated her to a Tigers helmet filled with popcorn at the Tigers game.  Her best friends mom always makes sure there are Doritos in the house when we are coming over, and was devastated when her husband accidentally ate them before we got there.

It is actually hard to describe how much Katie focuses on food unless you see it first hand. Until you hear her ask for a snack from the pretzel stand in the mall, when we have just eaten lunch.  Or ask for another glass of pop when she has just had 3.  Or devour an entire plate of pizza crusts when you aren't looking.  Then maybe you will understand why we have to say "no" sometimes when she asks for more.  But if you ever decide to join us on our Adventures in Autism, you might want to pack a picnic lunch.

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