How a Stranger’s Advice Helped my Autistic Daughter Overcome her Eating Issues

My daughter has always had struggles with food. From the moment she was weaned she has refused, spat out or thrown food away. Her weight has always been a concern yet no-one seemed to take me seriously.

That was until she was diagnosed with autism just before her 5th birthday and on her diagnosis letter they wrote about her limited diet and sensory avoidance with food.

I was so excited a year later when we finally received an appointment with a sensory trained occupational therapist for children with autism.

I was sure this professional would help us.

We tried everything she suggested. We did so many different ‘desensitisation’ activities like messy play, baking and play doh. We had fun with plastic food and real food and we looked through recipe books together.

Yet her eating remained as restricted as ever and her weight continued to drop.

Eventually the appointments drew further apart until there was nothing left to suggest.

If anything we had dropped foods and my little girl was living off small amounts of cows milk, licks of chocolate sandwich spread, peppa pig spaghetti and cheesy pasta from a well know pizza restaurant.

Then at 6 years old she became very ill with pneumonia and stopped eating altogether. It was terrifying! By this time I had managed to get her to drink one brand of orange squash to keep her from dehydration but then the manufacturers suddenly stopped making it and I broke down on the phone to them. (https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/to-the-woman-on-the-helpline/)

I was watching my own daughter starve herself.

Miraculously we got through it but her eating was as restrictive as ever and we had an urgent referral to child and adolescent mental health. By urgent they really mean three to four months by which time things were at true crisis point. There was no fluid or food consumed the entire school day at this point and very little at home either.

We did everything that was suggested again. We dished up what we were having on a side plate but ignored it if it was refused. We lessened her anxiety by allowing technology at the kitchen table and gave basic food choices. We tried being strict. When that failed we tried being lenient. Nothing changed.

A year later child and adolescent mental health withdrew too.

We then saw a dietician whose plan was supplementary drinks. My daughter refused to drink them.

There were no professionals left to try.

We did everything the professionals suggested and still we could not get my daughter to eat.

Then one day I was chatting to an editor of a site I write for. She asked if I would write a blog for the site but she had a radical suggestion that changed everything. She asked if I could ask my 8 year old daughter why she didn’t like to eat.

A stranger suggested something simple but incredible: ask the child.

So I did. And she told me this: https://autismawareness.com/the-reason-i-dont-like-to-eat/

The site published the piece and it went viral. Thousands upon thousands were touched by the private thoughts of an 8 year old who struggled with eating.

Rachel had never met my daughter. She has no professional training in autism or eating disorders. She is not sensory trained nor a child phycologist. Yet her advice was so simple but life changing. I will never be able to repay Rachel for saving my daughter’s life.

It’s now seven months since that blog was written. When my daughter wrote that she only ate a tiny amount of foods. Her BMI was less than 14 and her weight was on the 0.74 percentile. In other words she was not even on the chart and she was dangerously underweight! She was pale and ill looking with dark circles under her eyes. She had no energy and her mental health was poor. There was a whole lot of talk about feeding tubes.

Naomi’s post reached over 282 thousand people just on the one site. Most importantly though it reached down into my heart. I read and reread her thoughts and radically changed how I fed my daughter.

I took meals to where she was.

I let her eat in whatever way she felt comfortable.

I made sure food never touched.

I stopped nagging her to eat.

I bought and cooked what she liked the way she liked it.

We stopped eating at the kitchen table and let her eat while watching you tube or TV.

Seven months later and no-one is talking about feeding tubes anymore. Her BMI is now 15.4 and she is on the 4th percentile on the chart for her weight. She now has twenty items she will eat compared to four seven months ago.

My daughter still has an eating disorder. She still has autism. But we are making progress thanks to one stranger’s life changing advice.

What can we all learn from this? Listen to what the person you are trying to help is saying. Really listen. What works for one person is not always right for another.

Oh and always be open to advice…even if it comes from a stranger!

Rachel holds a very special place in my life. She was the stranger who helped my autistic daughter overcome her eating issues.

There is no payment or thanks ever enough for something like that.

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How an Accident Broke my Autistic Son’s Trust

My son has autism. He also has learning difficulties and no speech. I am not going to lie; everyday is a struggle. He is 9 now and slowly we have learnt strategies that help both him and the rest of the family cope.

We have learnt to use visuals to aid his understanding.

We have strict routines for school mornings and bedtime.

We use ‘first/then’ so he knows that one thing follows another.

We use social stories.

We give him plenty of time to process what is happening and what we are doing.

We let him chose between no more than two things because anything more confuses and stresses him.

We get by day to day. We have screaming and frustrations but by and large we stumble through.

But what happens when an emergency or a crisis happens and you have no time to do any of the above?

Two weeks ago I was driving my car on a very fast road with my son with me. I have been driving for over twenty years and never been involved in an accident. I explain to my son hat was going to happen using words and visuals. I was picking up a family member then we would get his sister from gran’s house and then go home. He screamed at the thought of transitioning from his comfy seat at home with YouTube on his iPad to having to sit in the car. I was patient and gave him time to process. I strapped him in and made sure he was comfortable and then I set off.

It was all going exactly like I had explained to my son in his social story. It was such a simple story with a photo of mums car, a photo of my brother’s house, my mums house, his sister then home. That was how it was all meant to happen.

Except it didn’t.

On the journey home we were unfortunately involved in a major car accident. That wasn’t in the ‘first and then’ or the social story and there was certainly no visual of my smashed up car and inflated air bags!

This is when non verbal autism is serious. In an emergency situation how do you help a child with severe autism and limited understanding cope?

How do I explain he can’t get out of the car when cars are speeding past us at 70 miles per hour? How do I know if he is injured from the crash or even in shock? He just sat there in total silence.

When the paramedic first arrived he asked my 9 year old his name. My son never answered. He asked him his age. Silence. My 9 year old has less language than an average 1 year old and all of a sudden the reality of that crushed my heart. The paramedic then asked me if I had an idea if my son was injured. He can’t even point to parts of his body in the nursery song ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ so how on earth can he say if he is in pain or where?

All three lanes of high speed traffic were halted while my car was pushed over to the hard shoulder for safety. To my son this was wonderful! He thought the car was moving again and I should get in and drive him home. That’s what was in his social story after all!

If I thought getting my son out of the house and into the car an hour earlier had been hard I had no idea! Now I had to get my son out of my smashed up car and into the back of an ambulance. He has no concept of what an ambulance is. He was not for getting out of my car.

Autism is hard. In an emergency autism can be impossible!

I could not suddenly show him visuals. I had no pre-prepared picture story. I could not give him adequate time to process! His life was in danger and sadly I had no choice but to pull him out that car and drag him into that ambulance. I wish he could understand why I had to do that but I don’t think he ever will.

My son is ok. The next day a lot of bruising appeared but thankfully it was all superficial from his seat belt. The real damage though is to his trust and no-one can give me any idea when that will heal, if ever.

While my injuries will heal over time (ligament damage and bruised bones) I can at least understand what happened.

My son with autism has no concept of ‘emergency’ or even ‘different’.

He won’t entertain any social stories now. He just screams when we say ‘first and then’ and he throws away all the visuals we have.

He can not process the fact that an emergency happened and things had to change.

A friend said about the accident ‘thank goodness nothing was broken except the car’.

Sadly the crash broke much more than a vehicle.

An emergency situation broke my son’s ability to trust me and there is no insurance that will cover that.