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Eat, Wont Eat: Dietary Difficulties
and the Autistic Spectrum Disorders
by Brenda Legge is a book compiled mainly of case studies, with survey results,
and techniques for change. The first case study is that of the authors
11-year-old son who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS). Legge explains how the texture, taste and
appearance of foods all affect her childs ability to eat. She describes how the inflexible nature of
an autistic child goes beyond stubbornness or an unwillingness to conform. The
fear of change, of accepting anything new or unfamiliar, is so great that it
seems to defy all logic. She describes how his eating is beyond faddy and
how he has a real aversion to trying anything new. She recounts how her sons
eating habits influence all areas of his and his familys life.
book was of interest to me as our son has AS and has had eating difficulties
since he was a baby. Our sons issues
have evolved over time, from going on hunger strikes, to poor growth due to not
eating, to now being very particular about the texture, taste, temperature and
appearance of food. This book was reassuring in explaining that our family is
not unique in having a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with
significant eating issues.
Throughout the book, Legge provides examples of
problems that children with ASD have with food. An interesting aspect about
eating intolerances is that the parent has to be respectful of the childs
experience even though it may not seem based in any sort of reality. For
example, one of the major issues the author describes is her sons intolerance
for eating foods with lumps or bits.
We know very well about bits at our house. There are some foods in which our son insists there are
bits. Even though I dont think they
have bits in them, I cant deny his experience of bits. It is a subjective
experience even though some may argue it is objective.
One explanation for children with ASD having
eating problems would be that most of these children have heightened senses and
the whole eating process is complicated due to this. Many of these children have sensory defensive neurological
systems. Eating is a very sensory experience from how the food looks and smells
to how the texture feels on the lips and tongue. Many children with ASD have problems with sensory integration
involving other aspects of daily living, so it makes sense that eating would
also be an area where this is an issue.
Another contributing factor to eating problems could be the obsessive
characteristics that children with ASD sometimes have and how these
characteristics may influence their eating difficulties.
author also discusses how it seems as though everyone has an opinion about how
to get your child to eat, or how to get your child to stop being particular
about food textures, etc. The author
describes experiences of people minimizing her sons problems, denying the
problem or judging her about her abilities as a parent, or blaming her for her
sons problems. This seems to be a
common problem, as many people cannot understand how a child could have such a
significant problem with eating.
provides countless ideas, tips, and techniques for helping the child with
eating problems. These include a
variety of behavior techniques, bribery, exploiting the childs interests (e.g.
Thomas the Train), etc. These ideas are
wide ranging, and probably the most valuable part of the book. They are interspersed throughout the book
and are provided by health care professionals, the author herself, and multiple
parents who completed surveys sent out by the author.
survey results are rather interesting.
The author developed a survey for other parents of children with ASD and
eating problems. The results include
basic demographic information along with responses from parents regarding
numerous aspects of their childs eating difficulties.
author maintains that all children are different and how it is important not to
make assumptions about one child based on what has worked for another. Every child with ASD is different, and the
eating difficulties and peculiarities will not improve using the same
techniques for all. She reinforces that
it is not the parents fault their child is a faddy/picky/peculiar eater. She believes that parents often have the ability
to help their child with their eating problems better than professionals. She asserts that parents know their child
better than anyone else and therefore they often have the ability to come up
with solutions to help their child function better at home, school and the
of the best chapters in the book is an interview with a dietician who is also
the mother of an autistic son with dietary intolerances and a limited
repertoire of desired foods. The
dietician provides many insightful ideas on how to help children increase their
list of acceptable foods, including some techniques that are similar to
systematic desensitization. For
example, she encourages kids to help shop for food, help cook, smell the food,
and watch other family members eat the food, etc. These techniques, along with others, are also detailed in a
program at Great Ormand Hospital in London for those children with eating
problems. This chapter contains
invaluable information about some possible solutions to eating problems.
author includes an interview with 32-year-old women with autism who has had
fears and dislikes of foods since her childhood. She explains how her eating problems have changed over the years
but have never gone away. Even though
it impossible to predict the future for our children, past behavior predicts
future behavior to a certain degree, and she provides an interesting
perspective about how her eating practices have evolved over the years but
remained somewhat problematic.
there is chapter on social difficulties relating to eating problems. The author describes the social expectations
and norms of eating at other peoples homes, eating out as a family, birthday
parties, play dates and school. Legge stresses the importance of being
cognizant of the need for accommodation and accepting that her son is not being
difficult intentionally. She does not
in any way think that her son is going to change and be a flexible eater just
because he wouldnt want to hurt someones feelings etc. That is the nature of ASD. Many children with ASD are limited in their
ability to recognize that their behavior may impact anothers feelings.
the epilogue, the author describes where her son is at this point in time with
his eating problems. She describes that
not much is different, but she doesnt feel that all hope is lost when it comes
to improving his ability to enjoy a wider variety of foods in more situations.
this book is a valuable resource for parents and professionals interested in
helping children with eating difficulties.
It is well written, straightforward and easy to read. The case studies
are interesting, the information and suggestions from professionals and other
parents is valid, and the authors compassion for children struggling with
these issues is obvious.
© 2003 Monique Thorton
Monique Thornton earned her MSW in 1993 from the
University of Kansas, and is the mother of a 6-year-old with Asperger Syndrome.