Since my son was born in 2008 he has been his own little person. He lets his needs be known. Sometimes loudly. He was not verbal until he was 3. Of course because of this (and many other behaviors such as only eating a narrow window of foods, extreme fear of doctors – to the point of full on tantrum meltdowns when anyone tried to touch him, weigh him or measure him, sensitivity to textures, etc.) our pediatrician recommended he be evaluated for autism spectrum disorders.
This process was an emotional one. As a parent, the first thought is defensive, “Screw you! There is nothing, nothing, wrong with my child.” But after the suggestions were made, and the realization that some behaviors do line up with pervasive development disorder or Aspergers, it hit home that maybe, just maybe there was cause for concern. Then I really started to notice other kids, and compare. How did they eat? Were they picky? How did their kid behave at the doctor’s office? How did they play with other kids? Were they verbal? At what age? And on and on and on…. A person can drive themselves crazy with the questions. Not to mention the questions of cause. Was it something we did? Ugh…that one will break you.
We made the appointment and were relieved to learn after 2 very extensive sessions that, to quote the wonderful doctor we met with, “we were not impressing him at all” with our child’s behavior with regard to it being on the autism spectrum. I’ve never been so happy to see my son “fail” at something! (I’ve never forgotten that doctor and how kind he was. I so wish he could have been our regular pediatrician.) Shortly after we were enrolled in Hawaii’s speech therapy program. A speech therapist came to our house 2 times a month and worked with Jake and I and “played”. And through play, taught me how to illicit speech responses from Jake. He now talks ALL THE TIME.
There has still been some lingering questions, however. We still dread going to the doctor and dentist. Dread probably isn’t a strong enough word. It’s traumatic for all involved. To the point that with the dental work he needs, he will need anesthesia. Food has been a battle for us since he started solids and the 20 or so foods he would eat, now is only about half that. We walked out of Sunday school a few weeks ago with me carrying him sideways in a full on freak out tantrum. I hugged him by the side of the car for 15 minutes until he was able to calm down. And as we walked out – all the other 4 and 5 year olds were happily sitting at the table doing their Sunday School craft. (As a side note – don’t judge a parent based on one tantrum you may see. You don’t know what that parent is going through or what that child may be going through. Yes, there are brats, and there are bad parents, but most of us do want what’s best for our children. Judgement of our parenting skills is not helpful.)
Part of me thinks, “Okay – he’s a “picky” eater. He’ll outgrow it,” or “His dad is hesitant to try new foods, he just takes after him,” and “Kids will eat when they are hungry – don’t make a big deal about food or it will become a much bigger issue.” “All kids tantrum, he is no different.”
Another epic food “disagreement” yesterday (it was so not pretty), and I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out the key to my son’s lock. He’s changed them on me and I just need to figure out a way in. Yelling, threatening, ignoring, cajoling, taking away privileges, etc… none of that works. He eats crap. He is 4. He OF COURSE is going to gravitate towards the sugary, empty goldfish cracker crap kind of food. What 4 year old wouldn’t?! Heck, what adult eats what they should most of the time?! Most of us don’t.
Even though my weight loss journey and desire to learn about and eat only REAL food led us to cut out the processed junk from our diets, I kept making excuses and justifying when it came to junky food and my son. (We don’t let him drink soda, and juice is a once in a while treat and we keep junk food to a minimum). He refuses to try new foods and would rather not eat and will just go play. I give up, and give him the same food over and over (grilled cheese sandwich) because I would rather him eat something – even if it’s not the best option or he’s eating the same thing for days on end. And the cycle plays out over and over.
Today I came across this:
And I almost cried in the bookstore as I was reading chapters that could have been taken from dialogue in our home. It describes behavior we experience daily with Jake. I came home and shared what I had found with Eric. He then told me that after our “disagreement” with Jacob yesterday, he had been praying for some kind of answers on how to deal with behavior and food issues.
I was looking for a cookbook when I came across this one. In a completely different section. Don’t tell me that God does not answer prayers. He does. And He did. And I am so grateful.
“What’s Eating Your Child? the Hidden Connections Between Food and Childhood Aliments: Anxiety, Recurrent Ear Infections, Stomachaches, Picky Eating, Rashes, ADHD, and More. And What Every Parent Can Do About It.” written by Kelly Dorfman, gives practical hands-on advice in a very applicable way. She outlines the E.A.T. program:
1. Eliminate any irritant, or in some cases unhealthy food, from your child’s diet. (In our case, that’s going to be large vats of milk that my son LOVES.)
2. Add one new food.
3. Try one bite of the new food. Trying one bite of the same new food every day for two weeks.
It takes an average of 12-15 tastes of a food before a person (adult or child) acclimates to liking a new food. In my case, I offered so many new foods and then gave up after the first, maybe the second, refusal. I think it’s what a lot of us do. We have a country full of picky kids eating the standard pasta, chips, crackers – essentially white processed garbage. The book outlines in detail why we crave certain foods, how sugar acts like heroin and is EXTREMELY addictive, as well as case studies that illustrate how nutrition plays a crucial role in health, development and behavior.
This process is going to be a tough one. Especially for my tough cookie. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. The father of modern medicine was exactly right.
Now it’s time for me to learn.
It’s time to help my son.