J was an amazing weaner. Honestly, he was a dream. At 6 months we started J on purée and some baby led weaning. J would have fun smearing it around the tray, lick his finger and have a good try on anything and everything he put in his hand. He wasn’t fussy…the only difficulty was his allergies so food had to be home made and monitored.
J ate a range of food and rarely turned anything down. He loved butternut squash and sweet potato and everything from cod cod to chicken. It was a great time! Then he turned 18 months and I had already started to notice things about J that concerned me (although we didn’t know it was autism at the time). His eating joined the list. J stopped eating food he usually loved. He would only eat sausage, chips, fruit and occasionally toast.
I thought it was a phase and kept offering him all his usual favourites. Eventually spaghetti Bolognese and rice with chicken joined the list. But I soon noticed a pattern. He was only eating dry food or meals where sauce was so well cooked into the food that you couldn’t tell it was there. J stopped touching food and would look visibly in pain if I spoon fed wet and mushy textures to him.
I figured he was just been a pain and I became the firm mummy who wouldn’t give dessert if he didn’t eat the majority of his food. The problem was that J wasn’t bothered by that. He’d stopped engaging in food and except for dry snacks he was never bothered by hunger or meal times in general.
(Hives, rash and eczema are just 3 of the symptoms J gets with an allergic reaction)
To make things more complicated J has allergies. He is cows milk protein allergic and mildly peanut allergic. He also reacts to kiwi and prawns but they are easy enough to avoid. Over the years I have become quite a master of knowing what I can make and give J. When he turned 1 we started the ‘milk reintroduction ladder’ which is where you reintroduce very small and specific diary products into your child’s diet. Yes, they will react but mildly and you carry on until their body stops rejecting the food. Then you move onto bigger portions and then the next step.
It starts with biscuits such as malted milk, then baked products such as scones, cakes, then ones like rice puddings gradually getting to uncooked products such as cream, ice cream, cheese. Top of the ladder is actual milk.
We have been on the ladder for 2 years and can’t get passed cooked milk products. Half of this is because J keeps reacting to the products but also because he won’t eat or touch many of the uncooked products. He won’t try cream, ice cream or custard. It’s too wet for him. Just to confuse us more he WILL eat yoghurt. Not sure why that’s the exception for him but it’s the one dairy product we can get into him on a daily basis. He does react still but it’s much less intense than it was a few months ago. He ‘just’ gets eczema flare up, loose bowels and wind that can kill. If he has yoghurt plus another dairy item such as a slice of pizza (so cooked cheese item) then he will get swollen around eyes and you can hear him have a gungy chest. I keep telling myself it’s a necessary evil and one day his body will stop fighting.
Today we had a review with our dietician. It’s time for J to move away from his special milk formula and onto soya. Ideally J would have been on cows milk by now but that’s not looking like it’s going to happen for a while yet. Anyway, we’ve been introducing soya but J really doesn’t like it. We also tried oat milk, coconut milk and almond milk but it’s been a big ‘no’ (followed by gagging).
The dietician recommended another soya based drink which taste of vanilla so we’re going to give that a go. As J’s diet consists of barely any calcium and little vitamin D it is important the he has something to provide that. At the moment it’s his neocate but hopefully this soya alternative will be the replacement. If he still won’t accept it the next step is a special vitamin. However as that has a chalky texture we’re not sure how J will cope with it. Hopefully this new soya milk will be key.
It’s times like this that being autistic makes things so much more complicated for us all. His sensory sensitivities make food challenging. My worry is that he’ll make himself ill, but at present his weight is proportionate to his height and he still has bundles of energy. I hope that continues.
To help J with his sensitivity I try and do sensory play as often as possible. We’ve managed dry textures and have progressed onto playdough recently (as long as it’s dry and doesn’t stick to his hands). He’s also letting foam soap touch his hand in the bath as long as he can instantly put his hand under the water after contact.
I’m hoping that by exposing him to different textures will lead to him being less sensitive and anxious, and open him to trying new foods.
Ice lollies are another avenue we’re using. J is under sensitive in his mouth so that’s why he is so sensitive to textures, but also means he ‘rams’ food in and stores it like a hamster. It takes more food for his mouth to recognise the feeling. It’s not a safe option and he has choked several times. The OT encouraged us to do activities which encourage his mouth to ‘wake up’ before food. These are things like eating an apple (it takes a lot of mouth muscles) and J’s favourite choice, eating an ice pop. We also try mouth exercises before food when he can’t have ice pops and apples. It does help. He is taking smaller bites and generally eats better.
Tonight we are having sweet chilli chicken (no sauce on J’s) and noodles (over cooked so drier) with broccoli and baby corn (with no sauce and dried so not wet at all). Some may say I’m making a rod for my own back and should just make him ‘normal’ food, but I say it’s more important that he eats and enjoys food. If food becomes a big fight then I’ve lost all hope of getting him to eat. So don’t judge that parent feeding their child crisps, or when they’ve eaten pasta every day for a month. You don’t know the battle they may have gone through to get to this point x
More posts about J’s eating at: