Tag Archives: picky eater


It would be almost impossible to enumerate the many things we learn from our children, particularly those who have special needs. Infinite patience, for one. Hope. Perspective. Appreciation. Acceptance. Love. And maybe a thing or two about dinosaurs or natural disasters.

But with each of our children, special needs or not, if we really stop to think about it, we might find that one thing stands out above all else. The one thing that we really needed to learn from them, and from them alone. I wrote recently that what I have learned from Nigel is the power of belief.  More than anything else, every day of his life, Nigel has taught me to believe. But what I have learned from Aidan is just as valuable.

In a word – surrender.

We’re not conditioned to view surrender as a good thing. To most of us, it means giving up. But to me, surrender means letting go. It means letting go of that which I cannot control. It means letting go of expectations placed upon a near-typical child. It means accepting What Is. And it’s something that Aidan, even more than Nigel, has taught me every day.


Unfortunately, I don’t write as much about Aidan. This website is called Teen Autism, and Aidan was never officially diagnosed on the spectrum. He did, however, experience a significant delay in language development, necessitating speech therapy until almost age ten. But what really affected him – and still does – is his sensory processing disorder. He must have been miserable as an infant, toddler, and even a preschooler. It wasn’t until age five that he seemed to be somewhat at home in his body; he was finally talking and smiling more often than crying and yelling.

But his eating issues continued to get worse. Whereas I would call Nigel a picky eater, Aidan is a limited eater. A year ago, as he was nearing 13, I started to realize that it seemed to be a control issue with him – not to control me, but to have some control in his life. He couldn’t control that his dad, whom he idolized, lived 700 miles away. He couldn’t control that he had an autistic brother. But he could control the food that he decided to eat. So what started off as a sensory issue developed into something even more involved.

And it bothered me greatly, not just because I worried about his health and his growth. It bothered me that I couldn’t just cook dinner for my child and he would eat it. Even at age 13! It bothered me that he was a teenager and, like his brother, should have been eating me out of house and home (even though Nigel is picky, he still manages to eat a variety of foods, and in mass quantities). And it bothered me that Aidan would eat more food when he was with his father. I took him to see a counselor, and he fought me, saying, “You’re making me do something against my will!” I compromised, telling him that if he increased his dinner choices to seven things, one to rotate each day of the week, that we would stop going to the counselor. He reached that point within three weekly sessions, and although I followed through, he has since lapsed to five or six items on the rotating dinner menu.

So I surrendered.

I let go of my expectations about Aidan’s eating habits. I let go of my expectations about how he responds to having an autistic brother (hint: it’s not always noble or gracious). I had to surrender. I had to. And I thought that if he could spend more time year-round with his dad that he might start eating better when he’s with me, too.


He has been with his dad for over three weeks now. I’ve talked to him several times, and the last time I did he told me, with excitement and pride in his voice, “I’ve been trying lots of new foods, Mom! I’ve been eating a lot.” And I told him, choking back tears, that I was so glad to hear it.

And someday soon I will tell him that there is nothing I wouldn’t have done to help him to be as happy and healthy as possible. I will tell him that it’s okay that he’s not always glad to have an autistic brother, that I honor his feelings. I will tell him that I accept the fact that he eats differently. And I will tell him that I have become a more balanced person because of it, because of learning to surrender.

Aidan, age 9, being a tiki at Pu’uhonua National Historical Park, Hawaii, 2006

When Eating is Difficult

Thanksgiving always poses a problem for those who are orally defensive. And although sensory processing disorder occurs simultaneously with many ASD individuals, it also occurs in those who do not have autism. My non-autistic younger son, Aidan, is highly orally defensive, and has been since infancy. It was so bad that sometimes while breastfeeding, if the milk tasted differently to him, he would scream and act as if I were trying to feed him motor oil. It was not fun for either of us.

The term “picky eater” does not seem to be the most fitting for Aidan, now twelve years old. Nigel, my autistic son, I would describe as a “very picky eater.” Aidan I would describe as a “limited eater.” Whereas Nigel will choose from an array of five acceptable breakfast items, Aidan will eat one (cold cereal and milk, alternating between two types of cereal, and that has only been a very recent development). Nigel will eat any of 12 choices for lunch and dinner, and Aidan is limited to five, and there are limitations even within those five.

He does not eat sandwiches. No macaroni and cheese. In fact, no cheese at all. He’ll eat pizza, but only after he peels off the cheese. No waffles, no oatmeal, no eggs, no CAKE even. For his birthday, he has cinnamon rolls.

I used to fight him on this. I recall when he was four years old that I gave him a tiny piece of lettuce and he refused to eat it, of course. So I sat on the kitchen floor with him and held him and put the piece of lettuce in his mouth and forced him to eat it. And I swore I would never force him to eat anything again.  I tried making bargains with him, I tried letting him go hungry until he would eat what was on the table. I tried reward charts. I tried grounding. Nothing worked.

In fact, the only thing that has worked is respecting his oral defensiveness. Respecting the fact that he has a hard time eating in the first place, and he only weighs 78 pounds, and “letting him go hungry” is the worst possible thing I could do because then his stomach would shrink further, making it even more difficult for him to eat the next time he tries. There are compelling reasons why he won’t or can’t eat many foods, and the best thing I can do is accept it and work with it.

And so, tomorrow, when we go to my mom’s for Thanksgiving as we do every year, we will bring Aidan’s certain brand of turkey hot dogs that he eats. And the raw baby carrots, the only vegetable he will eat. And he’ll sit at the table with the rest of us, and everyone understands (after some years of fruitless cajoling) that he will only eat what he eats. And we’re all a lot happier for it.