Thanks to asthma, during the first few years of Casey’s life we spent plenty of time in hospital wards. On several of those visits the only bed’s available were in a shared four bed room without a bathroom or curtains to hide behind. They don’t have bathrooms or curtains in the rooms of children with eating disorders. As I sat for hours in the company of anorexic and bulimic teenage girls I wondered how it could happen? At what point did food become the enemy?
If my son were a caveman, he would have outlived many neurotypical Neanderthals. Casey likes to stay in his safe environment, doesn’t experiment with dangerous things and isn’t tempted to try new and exciting foods. Food is just a necessity. He only eats what he needs to get through the day, the same 10 brands of the same 10 foods. Every day.
A number of those foods however, contain gluten. Now that we’re going gluten free, step one of trying to find a cure for autism, Casey has had to face his fears and try new things.
Being diagnosed with allergies to dairy, egg, fish, tree nuts, peanuts and corn at an early age, Casey’s diet was rapidly restricted. We only gave him safe foods that had come from places that were guaranteed not to have been in contact with nuts. At the time, our choices were limited, and so was his diet. But when it came to introducing new safe foods to his limited smorgasbord, his reactions were anything but normal. He wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome until he was four, so it was just another thing to add to his already long list of unusual behaviours.
Banana’s felt like carpet in his mouth and tomato paste made him vomit. He became so scared to try new foods that even after hour long stand offs at the dining room table; he just couldn’t bring himself to try anything. The crying, rolling into foetal positions, screaming and vomiting were just too much to handle. Dieticians told me not to worry as he was still in a healthy weight range. So eventually, I stopped trying to force him to eat new foods. I have to admit I was also pretty sick of cleaning up the vomit at the dining room table.
But five years after giving up, I’ve had to start all over again. His phobia presents somewhat differently now as a pre-teen. It no longer looks like a temper tantrum. It now looks just like the replays in my head of those teenage girls who were just so scared to eat. Casey’s not scared of getting fat. He’s scared of the food’s texture and what it might taste like. The primal instinct of fight or flight causes adrenaline surges that switch him into full sensory alert mode. His taste buds become hyper sensitive to every flavour and texture.
Thankfully potato chips, pepperoni, rice milk, soy yoghurt and green apples are gluten free. Noodles, tiny teddies, big teds, chicken nuggets and pizza are not. We have had to replace half of his foods with new and different foods. And he’s not happy.
After an hour long stand off to get him to eat three cubes of steak and half a sausage I had to pull apart each piece of steak until it was soft and had feed him one morsel at a time. I had to feed my ten year old. But he ate it. Can’t say the same for the sausage, it went into his mouth and then was regurgitated into the bin. The texture was just too squishy. Can’t say I blame him, I find the little bubbles of fat that randomly explode as you try and figure out what exactly is in the sausage somewhat discerning too!
Thanks to the Teen Titan Go episode called “Meatball Party” we have a new item on the menu. MEATBALLS! Yes, it’s exciting, yes, it cost me $2. It’s protein and I can even hide some healthy things in there too! Credit also goes to Finn and Jake from Adventure Time, it was also their endorsement of spaghetti and meatballs that sold and sealed the deal. Now to find some gluten free spaghetti…
Despite the trusted promise of epic flavour, the trying of the meatball, yes it was singular, still was scary. He became extremely anxious, pushed it around his plate for a good 20 minutes and nibbled the edge like a shy mouse, but he ate it. And the whole Campbell house had our own MEATBALL PARTY! Next on the list is a burrito, followed by Jake’s Most Delicious Sandwich. Adventure Time to the rescue!
Although there are current theories that believe anorexia is a representation of female Aspergers, I believe it also effects males. I won’t give up on my son’s diet this time. Having a healthy weight is not good enough in my opinion. Having a healthy diet is what we need. Slowly breaking down the fear and finding creative ways to introduce new, gut-repairing food has become my mission. And trying to figure out what exactly is involved in making “Jake’s Most Delicious Sandwich!”