Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Eat, Drink and Be Quiet

I am worn out.

I am tired of the dinner routine we have at our house. Every night is exactly the same. It starts as soon as I start making dinner. Joseph will wander in the kitchen and ask what I'm making. If the answer is anything other than pizza he will start to whine immediately. He'll ask me to fix him something different, he'll demand to "ask daddy" to decide if he has to eat whatever I'm cooking, he'll ask how much of what I'm making he has to eat before he gets something else. When he doesn't get the answers he wants he collapses to the floor and cries. Then he'll pull himself together and recharge himself for battle.

When I set the table the whining starts again. Sometimes it's not so bad. Sometimes it doesn't start until I call him to the table. Most nights it starts as soon as he sees the first plate touch the table. It's always a rehash of the same complaints from earlier.

Once I've called Joseph to dinner and he sees whatever it is we're having the whining changes. It' becomes more high pitched and frantic. He starts rubbing his face (I think this is a sensory thing) and flopping around in his chair. He begs for something else. He cries. He insists that he isn't hungry. He yells at me for making such a gross dinner.*

This continues on as the rest of us start to eat. Thankfully Elle is a champion eater and will try pretty much anything we give her. Jesse and I trade off trying to get Joseph to take a bite and/or shut the hell up so that the rest of us can eat in peace. Joseph continues to whine and cry and yell. I smother my urge to (and this is not very nice) smack him on the back of the head. (He's lucky I don't believe is spanking is all I have to say about that.) Because I'm the grown up and I have to keep control of myself I speak calmly and say things like "This is just chicken. You like chicken. Instead of worrying that you don't like it please just take a bite." instead of screaming "Knock it off! Please, for once in your life just eat like a normal person and stop ruining dinner for everyone else!" like I want to. Joseph gets more and more upset until we either:

a) send him to the couch and do our best to ignore him. Once there he almost always cranks up the volume because now, on top of everything else we're no longer paying attention to him. This gets him sent to his room where he continues to crab and complain but at least it's somewhat muffled.


b) convince him to take a bite. Almost without fail the reaction is "Hey! I like this ....... but I'm full now." After one bite. One stinking bite.

Most dinners end with him having less than five bites of food and that only comes after much convincing on our part. An hour later we will claim to be suddenly hungry and when we bring out the leftovers of his dinner the whining routine starts all over again.

We've tried everything we can think of to break this cycle but nothing seems to work. We have to keep trying though. I would love nothing more than to let Joseph spend every dinner in his room playing so that the rest of us could eat in peace but that wouldn't be fair to him or to us. We need that family time together and on those rare occasions when Joseph cooperates we really do enjoy dinner time. Just as important (maybe even more) is that Joseph needs to eat. It sounds so simple but it's not. He's seven and half and he weighs 38 pounds. He's the smallest kid in his class. The other day someone asked him if he was four. He cannot be skipping meals because there's already nothing to him. I can't handle seeing him not eat because he's so tiny, I hate to think of him losing weight.

If there was one thing I could change about Joseph's manifestation of Aspergers it would be this damned food issue. I hate that eating is such an issue for him. I think it's partly a sensory issue. Each meal presents an overwhelming number of smell, sights, textures and tastes that can be difficult for Joseph to navigate through. I think it's also an issue of control. Joseph can be very rigid and he only wants to eat what he wants to eat and when he wants to eat it. This would mean vanilla ice cream and pepperoni pizza once or twice a day. Anything else is different from what he wants and therefor difficult for him to accept.

A year of food therapy hasn't made meal time easier for Joseph. Punishments, rewards, indifference, Jesse and I have tried it all. I don't know how to win this battle. I don't know how to make it not a battle. I feel like I'm at the end of my rope.

Tonight I'll make another dinner that Joseph won't eat. I'll calmly ask him to try just one bite. I'll do my best not to raise my voice when I tell him to go to his room. When dinner is done and put away I'll sit on the edge of Joseph's bed and rub his back and remind him (again) why it's important that he eat. He'll pick at his fingers and promise that the next dinner will go better. And I'll smile at him and promise myself that I'll find a way to make that come true because I'm the mom and that's my job.

* This shouldn't hurt my feelings but it does. I take pride in cooking for my family and it stings when my efforts are called "gross" or "yucky". It's very rare that a night goes by where there isn't some negative comment made about dinner. We can't seem to get across to him that this is not appropriate but that's the subject of a whole different post.


shyestviolet said...

oh, jen, you guys are in my thoughts. is this something joseph will eventually grow out of, or is this a facet of his life that will always be difficult, do you think?

T. said...

I will think of you tomorrow when pretty much the same thing happens at my house....I know that I'm not alone.

Beany said...

You're a good cook.
You're a good mom.
Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

try pizza every night for a week

Anonymous said...


I wasn't being sarcastic or mean... just an idea. Pizza can have healthy stuff on it, and good fats too.

Cathy said...

Okay - were you looking for advice? Is yes, read on. If not, go ahead and delete this.
Have you tried the "This first, then this." tactic. For example, "eat four bites of chicken first, then you can have _____." Fill in the blank with either a favorite drink or something that he likes that you'd be okay with him eating at dinner (fruit or something). I use the "this first. then this." tactic at work all the time with one of my little preschoolers that also has aspergers. (Not with food, but with other things - "Do this first, then you can play with the magnet letters for 3 minutes.") I know it sounds like bribing, but yeah, it works for me (both at work and with my own 'typical' son). You could write a social story for dinner time. (Do they use social stories with your son at school? If not, email me and I'll explain a bit more.)
sorry if you weren't really looking for advice - I just couldn't keep it to myself.

andi said...

I feel your pain - there are like 10 foods Elliot will eat. Most of them are not hot foods and they can never, ever be mixed together. Luckily, it seems like her brother will be more of an adventurous eater.

Laggin said...

OMG. I'm a new reader at your blog. My Aspie is now 15. I have SO lived your life.

Our rule on food (and it was a huge issue for her) was, if you don't eat what I made for dinner then you can have fruit or yogurt and that's it. Nothing but fruit or yogurt before bed. Well, she ate an apple every single night before bed through most of grade school. Now she's over it and eats EVERYTHING. She begs me to take her for sushi while her "typical" friends scream, "EWWW!!!!"

I'll be back to keep reading about this. Glad to meet another Aspie mom. It's tough but, as you said in one of your posts, it has its good sides too. Now if we can just get her to pass Algebra (only 5 days left . . . and then the dreaded Geogmetry . . . the class they've always said would be the worst for her. Sigh.)

Anonymous said...

For one of the kids I babysat in collge (he too has aspergers) the mom found that if he was involved in the planning process then meals went better. Their deal was that if he got to pick what they had for dinner each day (and there were rules about what was picked, I'm talking lists of foods that he liked in the past, favorites etc) then he had to eat at least half of what was on his plate...

It also seemed to help that he knew in advance what they were having each day.

It ended up working well for them.

(If this was a venting and not a possiblity post, then please feel free to ignore me.)