We’re going through a rough patch with Tink’s eating at the moment. Relatively speaking, she’s always been quite a good eater. I often hear stories of children with autistic spectrum disorder who have extremely limited diets. For example, one friend’s son would only eat weetabix and toast, although he’s recently added cheese spread to that, and another who will only eat fish fingers and jacket potatoes for lunches and dinners. Food refusal and rejection in autistic people can be linked to sensory issues, as well as the need for order and ‘sameness’ that many autistic people possess. This is an interesting insight from Dr. Elizabeth Shea, a clinical psychologist from the Birmingham Food Refusal Services, who has diagnosed the child above with ARFID (Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).
We were feeling lucky that Tink had such a varied diet, even if it was the same few meals on rotation: roast dinner, chilli and rice, spag bol, curry and rice, pesto pasta, fish/fish fingers, sausages and casserole with rice. She also eats sandwiches (with either chicken or tuna inside), toast, dry cereal, raisins, crisps, dried fruit sticks and fruit puree pots (but only a certain flavour, which always seem to be the most popular in the shop and are, subsequently sold out often). There are a few other things too, which we have to limit, such as biscuits, cake (chocolate only), breadsticks, ice cream and, of course chocolate, which she would eat all day every day if she could.
So, not a bad list really! However, she’s recently started to reject pasta and rice. We had spag bol last night. Freya had garlic bread. We had hoped it was just a one-off, but she’s shaking her head and saying “uh-huh” every time now. Last night she even cried when she saw what was for dinner. So now she eats no pasta, very little rice and the only potatoes she’ll eat are the chopped up disguised ones in her roast dinner, (along with the only veg – broccoli – that she’ll tolerate as it’s so tiny when mashed up she can’t get round it) and occasionally the odd very salty chip. She loves meat and will eat loads of chicken, pork or beef on the rare occasions we have it for dinner. And sausages are her favourite. She’s even gone off her favourite hot cross buns that were always a good lunchtime option as a change from sandwiches and eggy bread.
But at what point do we start to be (more) concerned that her diet is becoming more and more limited? I dread dinner times now. It’s already driving me mad that I cook and she doesn’t eat, and I am utterly bored of the same meals over and over, that she now doesn’t eat either! I’m worried it will start to affect her growth and development; she’s already a bit skinnier than I’d like. And how do we tackle it? Is it worth getting help (from where I have no idea!) to see if we can increase the foods she’ll eat again? Do we even need to be worried at the moment? She still eats a fair variety of foods, albeit not particularly healthy. Do we just go with it for now, and give her endless chicken, fish fingers and sausages, despite the lack of nutritional value – (at least she’s eating something) and hope that she starts to add foods back in again at some point? Or are we just kidding ourselves…?