I love blood oranges. Oranges are pretty good, but blood oranges are my favorite. When I bite into one, I expect it will be; juicy, sweet, squishy and cold. Occasionally I will bite into a blood orange and find it to be sour, crunchy and all around gross. It makes my face shrivel up, my tongue stick out, and my voice say a few choice words. When the orange is not as I expect it to be, I am betrayed. I feel apprehensive about biting into another blood orange, in fear it will taste gross again. This is a feeling EVERYONE has experienced with one food or another.
We can even associate different foods with different feelings. Have you ever tried to cut ALL the crap food out of your diet, to lose weight? You see a candy bar you really like, or a bowl of chips you love sinking your teeth into; you instantly remember how it felt to have that certain treat in your mouth. You remember how wonderful it felt to sit there and eat the whole thing. Messages are sent to your brain, reminding you of how good it made you feel, and so…you want more. But look at it from another perspective. Have you ever loved a food, let’s say a brownie. Now, you cook them all the time, and you absolutely love their taste. Simplify it even more, you make it out of a box, that way, it is the exact same whenever you eat it. Now imagine a coworker brings brownies in and says they are from a box. You get excited and take a bite. Only to find it is obviously a different box then the one you use, because it’s gross. Ever happen to you? I guarantee it has.
Feelings can affect our food in ways we may or may not even be aware of. If you have a certain food you shared with a family member and that family member dies, you will forever associate that food with that person. If a happy occasion was centered around a food, you will associate that food with a happy feeling. But take yourself out of the situation and put yourself somewhere else, and the dynamic changes.
I am in no ways a child. I also do not have Autism. I cannot speak for those who do have an over abundance of awesomeness or other forms of sensory sensitivities. But I can say this; we (people without “special needs”) are perfectly capable of taking a moment to understand where they are coming from, when it comes to food complications.
There is not a single mother I have talked to (that has a special needs child) who has not mentioned how difficult it was/is to feed their child. Some of them refuse to eat foods of a certain texture, others refuse to eat foods of a certain color, or refuse to eat foods while at the table. There are endless variables here and I don’t want to generalize. But one common complaint is “it’s the exact same food! You ate it before, why can’t you eat it now?!” And to this, I must say…NO IT ISN’T! Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is ever exactly the same. There are endless variables that change the equation and all factors therein. Is the bowl/plate the same color? Is the cup the same color, size and shape? Are they wearing the same clothes they wore before? Are they more hot or more cold than last time? Is everyone sitting in their previous positions with the same outfits on and exact same demeanor? Has the child had the exact same kind of day with all feelings in the same manor? Is the noise level, temperature, lighting, and smells the exact same? There are so many variables here that I can’t even begin to list them. There is never an exact same meal…ever. Try as we may, the universe just does not fit like that. We aren’t allowed to have exact same second chances, especially not with food. Our children know this, feel it, taste it, sense it and are in tuned with it. To them, the meal is nowhere close to being the same, for reasons listed above and otherwise. It can be close, and they may be willing to tolerate those differences, but it’s not the same.
We need to be more compassionate in their feelings towards the world they live in. Is it an easy thing to do? Heck no! But it is the right thing to do. Should we allow our children to only eat one food in their entire life? Not if we can help it. Do we let them “get away” with eating whatever they want? Not necessarily. We are still their parents and we have to set up rules and boundaries, for their safety and our sanity. However; nothing says we can’t look through their eyes occasionally and try and understand where they are coming from. If you could care less where they eat, as long as they eat, then let them do it where they are comfortable. If you are one of those people that views dinner as being a meal at the table, try letting them get away with sitting on a different kind of chair or adding a cushion. If the meal isn’t the same, see if they can describe to you why. If you know they hate certain foods, try introducing them in a new way. If they are adamantly against some foods, try and respect that, but try giving them something else that fills that nutritional gap.
There is no “easy fix” when you have children with an overabundance of awesomeness. But there is understanding and compassion. It isn’t easy, it’s one of the hardest jobs in the freaking world, sometimes. Some days you just want to rip out all of your hair out then scream and throw something to hear it shatter. But you still have to get up and do it all over again. They will still be there when you are done. Sometimes looking at it from their perspective can help you understand their needs and you both are able to compromise. Sometimes that’s not possible, but trying is what’s important. Not only because you are their parent, but because you are their advocate, their safe spot, their hard place when the world is frightening. If you don’t make the effort to understand and adapt, what reason would they have to try and do the same thing?