Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Force Feeding?

Autism comes with a wide array of challenges. One challenge that many parents face is that of food aversions. Many children refuse to eat certain foods because of their appearance, texture, taste or smell. It really is not that different from feeding a typical child. Some children want peanut butter, but no jelly...and if you accidentally get jelly in the peanut butter jar it can be disastrous! Some children will not eat if their food groups touch each other on their plate. Suffice it to say, we all deal with food issues with our children at some point in time. The real difference between a typical child with food issues and a child with autism and food issues, is how we handle it.

When my son was in fourth grade, a new aide was introduced to the class. She was a lovely lady who had a child of her own with autism. We all felt she would be an asset to the class, someone who really understood this life we were living. She was eager to work with the kids, and let us all know that she felt she had some great advice to shre with us on how to handle a variety of situations.

At that time, Mikey was a very picky eater. The only way I was able to get him to eat fruit was to give him baby food. I would send in a few plastic Gerber fruit containers with his lunch everyday because he loved them. In my mind, puréed fruit was better than no fruit at all. The last thing a parent wants is for a child to be hungry and crabby, because nothing productive happens under those circumstances.

Well, this worked well for us,until one day the teacher asked me to stop sending in the fruit. When I asked why, she said she would rather he eat age-appropriate foods. The idea was great, except for the fact that Mikey was not willing to eat a wide variety of food at that time. She told me that the new aide had some great ideas pertaining to foods and she would like me to come in and discuss their plan. I reluctantly agreed.

Within a few days, I was in the classroom, ready to hear the plan. Their plan was to focus on certain snack foods he enjoyed and slowly replace them with a similar healthier version. For example, since he enjoyed cheez doodles at the time, they wanted to replace them with American cheese.Sounded like a good plan, right? So my next question is how do we do this, because at the time Mikey disliked cheese. Their response was that they would give him a few cheez doodles on a plate.They would then stand behind him with small pieces of cheese and after a few bites of the cheez doodles, they would hold his chin and put a piece of cheese in his mouth. This way he would have to taste it. They also mentioned that I would need to sign some sort of permission slip allowing them to do this.

I didn't need to think too long and hard about this, and my immediate answer was no. I explained that I would never want someone to put something in my mouth without me knowing what it was or wanting it. I was a bit of a finicky eater as a child as well, and although I still do not eat meat, I eat a wide array of foods that I never would have touched as a child. I thought that aside from that not being an appropriate way to feed him, I also believed it would cause him to develop trust issues surrounding food, and possibly cause him to stop eating other things.

Long story short, they were not happy with me. The aide said this worked with her son, and he eats anything she gives him. I congratulated her and told her how wonderful that was, but it wouldn't be happening with Mikey. She was actually mad, and felt that I was not helping him learn about other foods. I explained that while it may have worked for her son, we were now dealing with my son and I did not approve of their approach. I would not sign anything, and while they were unhappy, they had no choice but to put the breaks on their plan.

Now, I know they meant well, but I refused to let anyone put things in his mouth that he clearly did not want. I would never let someone do that to me, and I was not about to let anyone do it to my son. The aide voiced her opinion to me often, but I let it slide off my back every time.

I have always been a firm believer in raising your children in a way that you believe will help them succeed. I think this is true of all of our teaching moments as well. Some kids will potty train early, others will not. Some kids try new foods easily, others do not. It may take some children longer than others to use a sippy cup rather than bottle feed. The bottom line? They all get there, just at different times. I am happy to report that by allowing my son to make his own choices when it comes to food, he has grown to love a variety of foods...cheese included. As a matter of fact, it is actually one of his favorite foods.That didn't happen by me forcing it into his mouth. It happened by guiding him in the right direction, exposing him to a variety of foods, and giving him the opportunity to choose whatever appealed to him. He may not be able to speak, but he certainly can make decisions for himself. We let him do just that, and it has worked out beautifully for us.


  1. i love how you always stand your ground and do whats best for your kids. and btw, i can't eat pears because i have an allergy to them (among other fruits) but i love the taste of them so much that i will often buy a jar of gerber pears baby food and have the jar so I can "eat" a pear (I'm not allergic when they are cooked). I'm 44 years old. So if he likes baby food, let him have it.