Sunday, July 09, 2006

Three Foods

El Grande is a kid who inherited a genetic double-whammy. His blindness is autosomal recessive, and his Asperger's syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) may be genetic as well. No, I'm not going to get into theory on this one -- we've done our research. And then some. Believe me.
Many characteristics overlap. Blindisms such as moving his head from side to side or rocking quietly back and forth combine with the autistic "rock" and similar physical self-stim behaviors. But sometimes, the autism come straight to the fore. His insistance on Three Foods is one of those rigid routines.
When El Grande was more Pequeno (say, age 3-4), we used a 3-sectioned plate with raised edges so that he could eat independently with less spilling. This was an adaptation we made for the blindness. Now he is 14 and uses a regular plate, but still insists on having "exactly Three Foods" at every lunch and supper. What began as a reasonable accomodation became a routine and eventually an obsession. Kids with autism, even high functioning, thrive on routine. It often looks to an outsider as obsessive-compulsive, and yes, there are similarities.
Let me explain. spaghetti and meatballs count as two foods because they're served separately. Spaghetti with meatsauce, however, is one. Casseroles, no matter how many ingredients, count as one food. I cope by serving a bowl of fruit and/or dinner rolls on the side. We often keep jello or yogurt in the refrigerator in case of an urgent need for a Third Food.
Fortunately, this Three Foods rut only applies at home. If he eats at Grandma's house, he's open-minded. He can eat the hot lunch at school without counting foods. We can eat in a restaurant with no problems (a Braille menu helps, but that's another story).
Today the In-laws came for a big mid-day dinner visit. We had a great time catching up on all the latest news and hanging out around the grill while the brats and hot dogs were cooking. Then we sat down to eat and realized that we had plenty of food, but El Grande only had two items. Since he doesn't like salads, the coleslaw and German potato salad were not options for him. He had a brat and a small serving of watermelon. The Husband turned to me and mouthed, "Help!" I quickly found a container of leftover Tater Tots and re-heated them, and the Autistic One was content. The rest of us enjoyed the variety of salads.
Parents with no autism experience rarely understand. The "Pick your Battles" parenting philosophy is even more important with Asperger's in the home, and the Three Foods battle is not worth the time... yet. All these years it has provided El Grande with a sense of security and routine. He has grown to a point where he doesn't need this routine outside the home, which is a HUGE step. He may reach a point on his own when he will say, "Mom, I don't need Three Foods any more. This is enough." At which point I will faint, he will say "what was that big thump?" and all will be well with the world at mealtime forevermore.
If he doesn't do this on his own, we will work out ways to wean him from the anxiety that comes with major changes on any front. As we say in the world of autism, "never a dull moment." Oh, yes -- and "one issue at a time." Did I mention "pick your battles"?
Never mind.
It's time to plan supper now. One, two, three, go.


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