KFC popcorn chicken
Mary Brown’s taters
Brookside Blueberry and açai dark chocolate
Home style restaurant fries (Swiss Chalet, Ziggy’s, Ches’s)
Ketchup (does ketchup count as a food!?!?)
Did I mention chicken nuggets?
Jane’s chicken nuggets, to be specific.
That’s the list.
The complete list of the foods Tyson will eat.
Just read it again.
Really sad, isn’t it?
It wasn’t always like this.
As a toddler, Tyson was a great little eater.
He loved apples, kiwis, plums, carrots, ice cream, hamburgers, yogurt, cookies, spaghetti, Shepard’s pie, pizza, bread, cereal, peanut butter.
He loved food.
As time passes, it’s hard to remember all the foods he used to eat.
Recently I was cleaning up my many ‘Tyson’ binders (other parents of autistic children will know what I am talking about) and I found a sheet of paper with a list of all the foods Tyson eats, occasionally eats and now refuses to eat.
It was a trip down memory lane.
That list has gotten smaller.
I remember when he was about 8-9 months and my aunt was watching him for the day, she commented on how much he loved food. You couldn’t walk past the fridge and he was reaching out his arms for food.
I’m not sure where things went so wrong.
It was not like one day he was eating everything and the next day he was getting only foods from his ‘beige plate’ list.
It was gradually.
So gradual in fact, I didn’t see it happening in front of me.
I do remember the first time he stopped eating spaghetti.
He was suffering from acid reflux at the time and we thought the tomato sauce was just too much for his stomach and that’s why he stopped eating it.
I also remember the last time he had an ice cream cone. He took one lick and then laid the ice cream of the table. We just figured he was full.
Slowly over time, he lost more and more foods.
Food issues is another one of those things that often coexists with autism.
At the time, I did not stress when he stopped eating a food he used to eat. I just assumed over time he would eat it again.
He did not.
By the time we realized this, he had so little foods left.
Tyson is actually considered a problem feeder, one step above picky eater.
He only has about 10 foods that he will eat. We count McDonald’s fries and restaurant style fries as two different types of foods. When the list is this limited, you count everything.
But it’s not just about the total number of foods he will eat but also the type of food he is eating.
The beige plate.
His food consists of items mostly beige in color, plain in texture and taste.
No meats, besides processed chicken.
It’s also about brands and packaging.
Tyson will only eat Jane’s chicken nuggets.
He will only eat the original cheddar goldfish and not any of the other flavours. If you tear the bag slightly when opening, he won’t eat them.
We have lost some foods because the packaging changed (like the snack size mini chocolate chip cookies).
We have participated in a food program at the Janeway and I have attended several Janeway and private hosted food seminars to try and help Tyson.
And yet, here we are.
Less than 10 foods.
Going out to eat is extremely hard.
We have one child who only eats 10 foods and another child that has Celiac (inability to consume wheat).
I’ve just about given up eating anywhere that is not McDonalds.
I believe many of Tyson’s food struggles are due to his sensory issues.
Eating is a total sensory experience.
We touch it.
We smell it.
We see it.
Then, we taste it.
It’s what the rest of us love about food.
When we see a picture perfect piece of chocolate cake or smell homemade bread baking, it makes us want to eat it.
Likewise, if we smell the carton of milk that has gone sour, we don’t drink it.
We are already experiencing the food before it touches our lips.
But when you are hypersensitive to touch, smell, and/or taste, it can make eating a challenge.
I know some of you reading this are probably thinking, ‘he will eat when he is hungry’.
I think I have heard that once or twice (more like a million times).
But he will not eat it.
He truly will not eat any food that is not on the list.
It’s not because the child is difficult, it’s because the child is having a difficult time!
So … what do we do?
Resign to a lifetime of chicken nuggets.
No, we keep trying.
Before the pandemic, we were working on food exposure with Tyson.
So we would go to the grocery store once a week and have a list of three items. Tyson would have to find the food, pick it up and put it in the cart.
There was no pressure to eat the food, just get him familiar with different foods – how they felt and smelled.
We also were learning about the food. So I wrote short social stories about apples for example – what they look and taste like, where they grow, different ways apples are used as food.
Apples are funny foods in that they look different on the inside compared to the outside, come in a variety of colours and the same type of apple may taste different from time to time. Probably not the best food to start with.
We also started getting him to help prep simple foods like making a pizza or smoothie.
Getting Tyson to touch foods, especially ‘wet’ foods, was a challenge at first. Often he was a bystander, instead of an active participant.
We didn’t make any progress but we also haven’t done any of these activities since COVID.
So we will try again.
The reason I decided to share our food struggles was in a hope to foster some understanding and compassion to these kiddos who struggle with food.
We never set out with the intent of Tyson only eating chicken nuggets, it’s just the place we are right now.
So if you happen to be in the presence of a kiddo like Tyson, who struggles with new foods, please be kind.
We are trying.
He is trying.
He just needs a lot of practice and a lot of patience from those around him.