To the person who doesn’t take my son’s sensory issues seriously:
Yeah, he’s a picky eater. Yeah, his diet isn’t great. Yeah, he knows Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal is not a food group. And yeah, even though he’s hungry, he’s still not going to eat your (insert anything here that is not Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, Vanilla Oreos, Velveeta Shells & Cheese, pizza, apples or Pringles). It’s not because he’s “spoiled.” It’s not because we “give in to him.” It’s not because we “always let him win.”
And it’s not because your mac and cheese sucks — it’s because he has sensory processing difficulties and he is not going to eat it… not today, not tomorrow, not next Thursday. It’s not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s about him.
Although you may think, “He will eat it when he gets hungry enough,” chances are, he won’t. And as a mother who understands him, advocates for him and loves him, I’m never going to test your theory. Would you be willing to try “just a bite” of some rotting food out of a dumpster on a hot summer day? Because, no offense, but that’s exactly what your mac and cheese might smell and taste like to him.
These sensory sensitivities come as a result of his autism, not as a result of poor parenting or because he is a “stubborn, strong-willed child.” His sensory system is on heightened alert because his brain processes his sense of smell, taste, sight and touch differently than you and I do, so him not eating your mac and cheese is not meant to offend you, it’s meant to protect him. Eating what he is used to, what he knows he likes, makes him feel safe. Even though your mac and cheese may be award-winning, to my son it’s an unpredictable threat.
When he was little, he would yell, “no, no, no” when an undesirable, new, threatening food was placed before him. Now that he is older, he is better able to explain how threatening your mac and cheese is to his sensory system. “My brain and my body will not let that food go in my mouth.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a stinky, hard-boiled egg, a delicious-smelling, warm and gooey brownie, or your mac and cheese — his brain and his body say “no,” and I respect that because I respect him. I just wish you would.
If perhaps you would read some of the articles, blog posts and books I’ve suggested to you so you can try to understand him and his sensory system better, maybe you would spend less time fighting him and more time relating to him. You might see how far he’s come and not how far you believe he still has to go. You may see him and not your untouched mac and cheese.
The next time we come to visit, consider serving Velveeta Shells & Cheese instead — not because you’re “giving in,” “spoiling him” or “always letting him win,” but because you love him, respect him and are trying to understand him and his sensory sensitivities. By taking the time to learn about this amazing person you love, you will be more aware, accepting and understanding. Perhaps then, you will finally see him, and not what is or isn’t on his plate.
Originally published on The Mighty