I am delighted to welcome Kirsty Russell from Positive Special Needs Parenting to the Play with Food blog. Kirsty read my post on “9 things not to say to the parent of a fussy eater” and replied to me saying that she’d heard them ALL. I am happy she has shared how she has handled unhelpful feeding advice, even if well meaning, for her family.
I’ve been dealing with feeding issues all my parenting life. My eldest son has just turned 14 and, despite eating me out of house and home, he is still very particular with what he eats. It’s always been that way. He has various diagnoses (autism, sensory processing disorder, vision impairment, anxiety) that have worked together over the years to make eating and meal times very difficult for him. It’s not that he doesn’t want to eat (I can vouch for that one personally – just have a look at my grocery bill!) It’s more that his sensory needs and his anxiety combine to make trying new food and, veering from certain textures, nearly impossible for him.
My son has always preferred crunchy textures as he needs more sensory input than most. Which is why he loves potato chips, oven baked meals, biscuits, uncooked pasta, chewy lollies and, will even try the occasional apple or raw carrot, to get the oral sensory input he needs. It’s also why he dislikes mashed potato or potato bake, steamed vegetables, most pastas (except macaroni cheese, for some reason!), soups, stews and many other soft foods. In fact, he has gagged on more than one occasion when we’ve tried to push the point with him. He’s also very easily put off eating, depending on his surroundings. A strong whiff of smell, annoying background noise, random objects in his eyeline and sitting too close to others can all prevent him from eating anything at all. His sensory needs play a huge role in his eating habits and, combined with his heightened anxiety, prevent him from trying new food.
When he was younger, his issues with food were often put down to the terrible twos & threes and his need to exert independence. At this age, food aversions aren’t seen to be unusual or a sign of anything other than your child wanting to take control. (read more on when to seek help here)
However, diagnoses of autism and sensory processing disorder soon followed, and we came to realise these issues were unlikely to go away. As he’s grown older, his dependence on certain foods has become more noticeable to others as it’s less expected for older kids to be fussy or picky eaters. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard remarks on his limited diet and on my parenting. I’m aware others think I’m pandering to him and should exert more control over what he eats. I get it. I’d love to see him eat a greater range of foods – it would certainly make dinner time easier for me!
With his older sister also on the autism spectrum, his younger sister to manage and other aspects of his conditions to deal with, diet hasn’t been our sole priority. Special needs parenting is all about juggling competing needs as best you can. I do what I can but I’m not perfect and I haven’t been able to get everything right for everyone.
How to respond to misguided advice
It can be confronting when others comment on his limited diet or offer not-so- helpful advice. It’s easy to take it personally, as an attack on my parenting and it can be exhausting repeating the same responses to the same suggestions, over and over, again.
Chances are, I’ve already tried most of their suggestions or I know they will not work for him. And, as tempting as it is to let them know what I really think about their input, most of the time it comes from a well-meaning place, so it’s not appropriate to be rude or snarky. Instead, I respond by thanking them for their suggestion, explain why it’s not suitable for our situation and use the opportunity to talk about his various diagnoses and how they interact to make
trying new food difficult for him.
I admit, it can be exhausting to be polite and continually explain his situation, but I choose to see it as an education opportunity. Hopefully, that person will be less judgemental next time around and may even learn something about sensory processing needs, anxiety and autism in the process! Letting go of my own guilt about his limited diet has also helped me in these situations. I now feel less defensive when it seems my own parenting decisions are being questioned. I know my child best and I know the issues he faces with food every day. I know forcing him to eat or withholding food or any of the other suggestions people regularly make will not help him or us. I know I’m not pandering to him or copping out as a parent. I’m more at peace with that now and it helps when confronted by misguided feeding advice and uneducated suggestions.
In the end, I know my child best. While his diet isn’t as healthy or as varied as I’d like it to be, he is healthy, happy and he is eating. That’s good enough for me – it should be more than good enough for everyone else as well.
About the Author
Kirsty Russell is a mother of three, wife of a big kid, writer, speaker and carer. She always has way too much on her plate but she’s learning to juggle with the best of them! A positive special needs parent, Kirsty is dedicated to helping fellow parents find positivity and empowerment, even in the most difficult of moments. At Positive Special Needs parenting, she share her experiences, creates practical resources and partners with others to provide information, support and advice. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Recommended Further Reading
- The article that I wrote for Positive Special Needs Parenting, The 5 Things You Need To Know About Feeding Kids and Their Sensory Needs.
- My article on helping a Sensory Child Try New Foods, Especially Vegetables
- My article on the 9 Things Not to Say to The Parent of a Fussy Eater