Chow Down

“Alex, dinner!” might sound like an echo across normal backyards the land over, except in our house it’s followed, every evening, by “Here are your hot dogs, Alex.” Hot dogs sliced by the width, about a half-inch a slice, and they have to be Hebrew Nationals because if you use any other brand you’re not fooling anybody.

Compared with the rest of his development, Alex’s diet is arrested (I’d say “retarded” but don’t for reasons that are also starting to feel scary — he’s almost 14, PDD-NOS and solidly on the spectrum), and it’s progressed little in several months. Vitamins and stuff like Benefibre help, but regarding food we’re still parked at La Crème pink yogurt (“pink” is not an official flavor; raspberry or strawberry, doesn’t seem to matter which, but try the pale vanilla or the orange-y peach and you’re not fooling anybody). Utz Dark Special pretzels, plain cracker flavor Goldfish. Chocolate chip cookies, with Chips Ahoy a favorite, though homemade from the mix will do. Just make them crunchy with no soft-and-chewy crap.
 
“Alex, try these kale chips!”

Kale has a rep worse than that of hot dogs that aren’t Hebrew Nationals, but recently my wife Jill found this recipe where you chop kale, spread it on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt it like mad and broil it for 20 minutes. You wouldn’t believe how much the result tastes like junk food. “Alex, here-” I try our time-honored method of touching the tip of his finger to the stuff we want him to eat and then touching the fingertip to his lips and tongue. The salt! The oil! Who could resist? Alex twists his lips into a sad rectangle, downturned at the corners, and makes a sound like Snoopy when he’s unhappy. Blaaaah!
 
Alex used to eat the cheese off a slice of pizza, that sausage-substance patty from inside the McDonald’s breakfast biscuit, maybe a few berries mashed in his teeth and smeared across his lips. “Jill,” I ask, “what can you tell me about Alex and eating these days?”
 
“I dunno,” she says. “It’s just so difficult. I did get him to drink chicken broth the other night, but I didn’t strain it enough and he kind of gagged on a bit of vegetable…”
 
It isn’t a matter of what but also how: We want Alex at the dinner table. Ned sets placemats for him, but Alex just snatches his bowl of Hebrew Nationals and heads back to the couch to eat them over his iPad. I know we should drag him back, take away the food, starve him until he eats food in the place where we, his family members with the supposedly whole brains, know it needs to be eaten. People have given us this advice, I notice that the people who give such advice often don’t have autistic children themselves. We let him eat his hot dogs at the couch over the iPad for yet another night, but I know we’re just fooling ourselves.

Jeff Stimpson lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s DigestAutism Spectrum News, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”

2 Responses to Chow Down

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  2. Mylinda says:

    We all do what we have to do to make it work. Does he eat ice cream? I have friend that makes the most delicious shakes that start with ice cream and coffee. Her son is in his 20’s and food is an issue. Good luck!

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