Have I never dedicated a blog post to this before? Well here it is!
Most parents know that dinner rituals matter. Most parents try to get their kids to sit down to eat with them. Most parents expect their children to stop staring at a screen and start staring at their food for at least a few minutes every evening.
Most parents don’t have severely autistic children. It’s hard to get our little bundle of neuroses to stay still in a chair for more than a few minutes. Screen time has nothing to do with it; he merely wants to keep tee-tee-tee-ing all over the house. Maybe one out of four times, he’ll sit still for maybe ten minutes to eat his dinner. On those occasions, we will praise him like the second coming of Jesus. I think our other kid understands Dar’s condition enough that in such cases, he doesn’t resent missing out on the extreme compliments.
Most of the time, Dar prefers to stand between his mom and me while we eat. Sometimes, he will steal our food. Sometimes, that food will be the same food sitting on a plate at his place at the table. Yes, it must taste better stolen.
His fork skills are actually pretty good. He moves in on my plate like Captain Ahab, harpoons his Moby Dick of a piece of chicken, and gobbles it up.
Just as often, though, he turns the forkful of food to my mouth. He feeds me. It’s very strange. And another thing: he feeds me fast. Like, I can barely get through chewing my last bite by the time he has the next bite raised to my mouth. His forkfuls are often, uh, full. It’s like he wants to jampack food into my mouth.
From some kids, this would be a horror. But from Dar, it represents one of the only ways he proactively engages with us, so we kinda allow it. I mean, sort of. I’m still a little weirded out by it; that’s one reason you’re not seeing a picture of it.
He’ll do this at a restaurant if we let him…which is why we won’t.
What about Mom, you ask? He’s not interested in feeding her. There may be a message here. Dar may be trying to get me to shut the fork up. Sure. I’d love him to teach me any lesson at all, so let’s say it’s that.
Because we know he wants to come over and feed me, we plan our home dinners accordingly. That means that we have plates ready for him at his assigned place at the table as well as between mom and me. When he comes over to feed me, I often feed him right back. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.
I’ve been spoon-feeding him at least once a week for his entire life. I am well aware that “spoon-feeding” is both a metaphorical and literal problem, but we need to get protein into Dar’s system. Yes, sometimes he feeds himself, but sometimes he won’t, and spoon-feeding works.
Now that he’s fork-feeding me, though, should we take that as his sarcastic rebellion against spoon-feeding? It doesn’t feel like that. It feels like Dar wanting to relieve me of the crushing burden of lifting a fork from my plate to my mouth. Thanks Dar!
How do we translate this to other programs, other areas? No idea.
I would encourage all parents reading this to treasure every time your child asks for your attention. When you hear, from three rooms away, “MOMMY,” or “DADDY,” try not to be annoyed. Each one of those calls is a precious gift, a gift that Dar has never given us. He rarely approaches us smiling, almost never with any kind of “look at this” or “see what I can do” sort of expression. Except when he feeds me.
So we’ll take it.