Several weeks ago, I posted that as my Facebook status, and got a few puzzled comments. Most of my friends could not understand what I was talking about.
But you, my fellow parents of children with sensory issues, you understand. Don’t you?
My son is an incredibly picky eater. In order for him to eat a plain doughnut, we have to remove the “brown” off the outside of it, so just the inside white part is exposed. This stems from the fact that over a year ago, he gagged on a plain doughnut, and the sensory memory of that has stayed with him ever since. So for him to be able to eat it, he has to have the outside surgically removed. Never mind the fact that he’s able to eat a plain munchkin no problem. The memory is from the doughnut, and can’t be changed, reasoned with, or explained.
So, you ask, why even bother giving him the doughnut in the first place? Give him a different kind. Or none at all.
Because my son isn’t just a picky eater. He’s a picky eater with SPD and autism, who also happens to have an intolerance to all corn products.
That’s right. His diet, already limited by his sensory disorder, is that much smaller because he can’t digest anything with corn. That means no corn starch, no corn syrup, no modified food starch, no dextrose, no maltodextrin, and of course, no high fructose corn syrup.
I’ll give you a moment to go check your pantry and see how many foods have some corn product in them. I’ll name a few kid-friendly ones: Cheerios, Rice Krispies, several brands of peanut butter, breads, jellies, crackers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, bologna, deli meats, yogurts…and we haven’t even left the house. Forget about fast food or eating out most places.
So that’s why we indulge him with the doughnut. Because that plain doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts is the only thing there that he can eat. And if his brothers are getting a treat from there, we like to make sure he can have something special too.
As you can imagine, getting food (and calories) into him is a challenge and always has been. He’s had this intolerance since he was born, and has barely stayed on the growth charts these past four years. We’ve worked with occupational therapists when he was younger to help with his gag reflex to certain textures, and have had some success in that area. But his memory is long for such a young guy. Foods that he has thrown up in the past never make it back into the food rotation – strawberries, french fries, soft fruit bars, and of course, the outside of that doughnut. We’ve had nutritionists suggest adding olive oil to his yogurt smoothies for more calories, but we’re afraid to alter the one thing we know he’ll drink.
All of this makes meal times very difficult. The SPD, the autism, and the food intolerance add up to some very interesting dinner adventures. My oldest bolts from the table whenever he sees his brother start to gag. One night, my son will eat an entire grilled cheese sandwich. The next week, served the exact same thing, he’ll take one bite and walk away. Or maybe not even a bite at all because he doesn’t like the way it smells. All his senses come to the table with him when he eats. And no amount of prodding, begging, encouraging or yelling will get him to eat something that he has decided is not okay for consumption at that moment.
We’ve been dealing with this for enough years now that for the most part we just accept it. Like every other challenge that comes with SPD, we try to anticipate what could happen and plan accordingly. If we’re going to a friend’s house, I warn them ahead of time that he might not eat anything to make sure they won’t be offended. We bring our food for him to restaurants and pizza parties so we don’t have to worry about the ingredients in every dish. We’ve brought our own cupcakes to birthday parties and always have a stash of goldfish and corn-free pretzel sticks handy just in case.
I will admit there are moments when I just lose it at the dinner table. Maybe it’s the night that I’ve worked incredibly hard on a new recipe and my son won’t even touch it because it doesn’t look right. Or maybe it’s the night that I’ve ordered the same pizza that he always eats from the one corn-free pizza place in town, and he decides he doesn’t like it anymore. On those nights – the ones when he ends up with a yogurt and crackers for dinner – those are the hardest nights for me as a parent. I leave the table feeling like I’ve failed at one of the most important things I’m supposed to do: feed my child.
I’m hoping that at some point, he’ll outgrow both the corn intolerance and the sensory issues surrounding food in general. Until then, we’ll continue to dissect the doughnuts. Because while some may call it overindulgence, we call it a way to get through the day.
“Just eat it, eat it , eat it
Get yourself an egg and beat it
Have some more chicken, have some more pie
It doesn’t matter , it’s broiled or fried
Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it
eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it, ooh” – Eat It by Weird Al Yankovic