A sensitivity to noise may persist long after the baby years

tick tock

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Picky eaters, and then some!

Picky Eaters Club

Many parents share a common goal, something along the lines of, ‘please let my child reach the age of majority and live a happy healthy life.’

Others, more ambitious parents, a few of them, focus on the “details.”

“Food and fun”

If ever there were two words that don't go together, then these two would be my first choice. I should have the picky eater logo tattooed on my forehead. I swear I have read every book ever published on the subject, or if not 'swear' as I have a tendency to exaggerate, then certainly a great many.

You see I am the mother of a neophobe, a person who eats less than 20 foods.

What does this mean?

Well……when did you last see a child [or adult?] who had a meltdown at the prospect of eating an ice-cream, or a chocolate chip cookie, or chocolate or candy……? Do those children exist? Yes, they surely do.

The first step towards helping your child expand their diet is to relinquish control. Control must be passed to the child without reservations, although hesitation and doubt is permitted.

The second step in any successful de-sensitization plan is to extinguish the connection between 'food' and 'eating.' This is where 'food is fun' comes into it's own.

For many people 'food' is fearful because it has to be eaten. Therefore, if you do not have to eat it, there is the possibility of extracting fun. Once fun has been extracted, by fair means or foul, food is no longer the enemy. When food is no longer the enemy there is the hopeful possibility that additional consumption might become a reality.

I can see 'doubt' writ large, but I can promise you that this approach will help make meal times less traumatic. There may not be very much more eating, but less trauma is definitely worth fighting for.

So where to start?

This will depend upon your child and you are the one that knows them best.

I can catalogue an endless campaign of ways to play with your food, some that will be familiar and others that are a little more obscure, but the ability to touch the food with hands should never be under-estimated. The inability to hold a utensil can be put on the back burner.

Bear in mind that the food, whichever you choose, may look horrible, smell disgusting, feel abhorrent and sound revolting when it is cut or squished. This is because food involves ALL of our senses.

I could write more, several volumes in fact, but I shall leave you with a selection of photographs that suggest a few of the endless possibilities available to us and our children, on their journey to accepting that food is our friend and starvation must be staved.

First we learn to tolerate touching the food.

Although some are easier than others.

We have a jello theme here = dino rescue!

No it’s not a disgusting vegetable it’s a toothbrush.

It’s one thing to touch it with a finger, quite another to hold it….. count to three before you chuck it!

It’s the basic principle that counts.

It’s one thing to hold jello, quite another to hold a genuine vegetable but we will generalize or bust.

Practice with something safe.

Is this real? No there’s Nutella smeared on the other side, but we still make contact!

Apple bobbing in Lemonade, might just take the edge off.

Ultimate control, every neophobe should have at least one. This was probably the hardest step for me and the most important one for him because it gave him real control. A designated ‘spit’ bowl means that once the food is in his mouth, he is able to reject it. No-one will force him to swallow. That first assault on those thousands of receptors is a challenge of taste, texture and temperature with every new food. The inside of our mouths, surely the most sensitive area, where a mouth ulcer the size of a pin head feels like an unexploded bomb. With continued exposure, repetition, the new food loses it status as new, becomes more familiar and may eventually be eaten.

From 3 to 17 foods in four years………….

………desensitization is a work in progress, the trick is to make the ‘work’ fun!


My good pal “Kristina” from “Autism Vox” suggested we pass this on to any interested parties………..

Hi “Kristina,”

This is Josh Levy, Managing Editor of “Change.org,” a social action blog network that just launched more than 12 blogs last month covering issues such as global warming, homelessness, and genocide. (You can see the full list here: “www.change.org”/causes).

I wanted to get in touch because we’re preparing to launch an autism blog next month and I was hoping you might know of someone that would be good for the position.

We’re looking for someone who is knowledgeable, passionate about the issue, and who can blog like a pro. The position is part-time and paid ($1000/mo).

I’ve pasted a job description below. I’d really appreciate it if you would consider forwarding it to anyone you think might be interested. We’d also love it if you would consider posting a short announcement on your blog; we’re trying to reach out to as many people in the autism activism community as possible and I’m hoping this is something your readers might be interested in.

Thanks so much for the help!

Josh Levy
Managing Editor

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Sheep May Safely Graze

Many parents are prone to moan about all the things that their autistic child will never do. I am exceptionally good at moaning myself, in fact, I have far more to moan about because we have double trouble around here.

Although autism is a spectrum disorder, often there are common themes. One common theme that we suffer around here, is an ability to enjoy nature’s wonders, or more specifically, natures wonder’s if they happen to be outside. For as long as I can remember both of them have been “allergic” to outside. I have used every tric……available therapy and strategy to desensitize them to this common garden phenomenon will little success. Short of staking them to the broad beans poles, I'm out of ideas, although duct tape might be a kinder option for the tactile defensive amongst us. I'm tempted to dip into a modern day Grimm's and lay a trail of M & M's up the garden path but we already have enough “ant” problems around here.

Although I find few activities as therapeutic, I am in the minority of one in this household. It peeves my environmental conscience that my spouse has insisted on installing a lawn, which Americans strangely call sod. The amount of water, energy, weeding and titivating that it requires to survive is out of all proportion to it's beneficial properties. Or so I thought.


I hear a clatter on the door and peek through the window to see my daughter chucking Poke Balls at the windows. She screams at her brothers from the garden, “hey guys, come on out here and play Pokemon in the long grass!” I march to the door to give her a piece of my mind regarding such vandalism but the boys slip out before me and hover on the step. “Look I got the grass types! Treeko, Tortera, Turtwig and Tropius!” The boys squeak with delight and thunder over towards their sister. I snatch the camera and sneak out on tippy toes.

They stand on the grass. My youngest stuffs both his hands in his mouth and breaths noisily. His brother takes a nose dive onto the grass, fingers searching out Pokemon figures, expertly hidden by his sister. I have no stop watch but the moments tick by. I slip into a garden chair under the pergola, in the shade, chameleon that I am. Thank goodness for sludge coloured clothing. I watch two lie on their tummies flattening knee high grass with another one close by, debating, weighing up the odds. “I got Chicorita too!” she adds, with a huge grin on her face. He squeaks and dives, sold to the littlest Pokemon fan in San Jose. I try not to giggle or gasp, as maturation is a beautiful thing. They roll around on the grass just like they roll around on the gravel in the front.

Hunger gets them in the end and they skitter back inside, but only after a considerable and unprecedented period of time. I skuttle in after them, way behind schedule with supper plans delayed. Everyone suffers from instant malnutrition as a crash around the kitchen trying to catch up. I can hardly wait to tell their dad, he'll never believe it! I'm sure that's why I take so many photographs, hard evidence for doubting Thomas types. I make pukey white pasta because it's quick, because it's a treat, a favourite, a celebration.

I sit at the table with my brood and beam at my dream team. My son whips off his T-shirt but I don't mind, everything is right with the world. My younger son rubs himself on the arm of the carver chair, the cage to keep him in place, but I don't care as everything is right with the world. The big one digs his caged fingernails into his neck! When the shrieking starts, I quickly realize that everything is not right with the world, what rash thoughts.
“I am be itch!”
“Me too aghhhhhhhh!

Two new experiences in one day!



So is that reverse genetic engineering?

Mud pies to you my friend.

Over the weekend I posted a couple of pieces to “Trusera,” “Woof Louder Pavlov,” and “The Green Eyed Monster” just in case you missed them.

Cheers dears

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The cat that got the cream

“I am be like!”
“Really! What do you like dear?”
“I bin dun like dah cream!”
Oh no! Don't tell me 'bin dun' is back to haunt us again, one of this pre-emptory terms equivalent to 'er.' I look at my little neophobe and his 15 foods. Verily the child doth lie through his little wonky baby teeth.


Oddly enough he picks up on my tone of skepticism, as does his brother, who dives in to defend, encourage and elucidate.
“Yeah Mom we are have ice-cream in school today.”
So much for the 'healthy food in school policy,' that didn't last a whisker.
“How come you had ice-cream?”
“Coz it was Tim's birthday.”
“It wuz a birthday treat.”
“Nice explaining dear. Surely he didn't eat ice-cream?” I ask over his brother’s head in a need to determine the real truth of the matter.
“No….he don eat dah ice-cream.”
I thought as much!
“But he did eat dah cream!”
“What cream?”
“Dah cream dat woz on dah ice-cream!”
“Cream on ice-cream!” talk about overkill.
“Yeah an it was real cold, but he ate it anyways……he din scream at all neither but he did his shivery thing………he wuz real brave mom.”

I smile as I think. Is cream really a food or merely a condiment? Does anyone eat a whole bowl of cream? Can you count cream or would that be like counting mustard as a food?

I look at my boys. The retrieval of the words has the effect of making him relive the experience. I watch as the little one judders involuntarily at the memory and the big one puts a steadying arm around his bony little shoulders.

Bravery awards all round [and rats to the theory of mind.]

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We have lift off!


One of the many delights of living in California, is the weather. The seasonal changes are detectable for those paying attention, but the subject of weather is not a daily topic of conversation as it is in other countries.

Some while back, before the boys had been diagnosed, our family was expanding but the house was not. On one particularly blissful day I advised my spouse that if he did not make the spare room cum office habitable, I would make his existence less blissful. He in turn advised me, that nothing on this earth or the next, would ever make the room livable. At this impasse, we made a rash decision, we would find a bigger house to fit our bigger family.

We spent many weeks looking at mansions and not at our bank balance.

We subsequently decided that we would stay put and extend the building capacity with an extension.

Of all the many properties that we viewed, one had an outstanding feature called a 'whole house extractor fan.' It is a deceptive term, so if you are not familiar with it, I will attempt a non technical description for you. Firstly you need to visualize a Boeing 747. Take off one of the propellers and stick it [along with some hardware of some kind or another] in your roof space. Attach securely to something that isn't going to fall off or down. Cut a couple of little holes at either end of your roof, the gable ends. Cut another hole in the centre of your ceiling in the middle of the house. Connect string, sorry, wire, from the propeller to a switch below, somewhere well out of the way, such as a closet. The idea is, that when you turn it on, the propeller whirs away and sucks all the hot air out of your house and swooshes it outside to help heat up everybody else's houses in the nearby vicinity. This means that with luck you won't have to turn your air conditioning on at all, or at least for less time.

There are however, a few minor details that may not be immediately apparent. Californian houses, in earthquake land, are made of plaster and bits of wood. The theory is, that when the house falls down around your ears you'll be buried in matchsticks rather than bricks. The down side to this feat of engineering is that if you drop a pin, the sound echoes throughout the property. Hence, when you flick the switch on your WHEF you definitely have the impression that the whole house is about to take off and surge into space like an escaping balloon. Everything rattles and shakes and the noise is death defying.

Generally speaking you would turn the device on at bed time, to cool it down ready for sleep.

We are currently in the month of April and I know that you are wondering why this seasonal topic is on my mind? It is on my mind because it takes a great deal of time for my little chaps to adjust to the experience of the WHEF.

When the thermometer hit’s the 90’s, tempers are frayed, we are bathed in sweat and that would be the time to flick the switch to earthquake mode. Far better to start early, daily. It’s yet another desensitization campaign. If we start now, by the time the mercury is rising we should be well on the way to cooling off.

We start off with a new social story which immediately puts them on notice that something is afoot. We examine the switch in the cupboard. We peer up at the grill in the ceiling. They both criticise the builder for installing the grill skew whiff, something that I had previously overlooked. We spend far too much time bogged down in definitions and better alternatives which range from ‘vacuum’ to ‘blower.’

The boys decide that the best place to be during the trial run, is outside the house. This is a quite remarkable decision bearing in mind that they have been “allergic” to outside for as long as I can remember. This is probably the very last thing that I could possibly have anticipated. I open the door to watch them leave the safe place and walk willingly into what was previously the ‘unsafe place.’ They scamper over to the perimeter fence, the furthest possible distance from the house. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, not really a long term solution although an excellent coping strategy. They cover their ears with the palms of their hands, resigned to the inevitable, “O.k. mom!” he bellows, “go turn on the rattleshake!”

A stride in an entirely new direction.

I better go and count how many steps there are from the fence to the house and calculate the number of days to reach a less safe harbour.

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The Food Police


I am a great believer in 'isms.'

They fit neatly into my own prejudice and bias.

You could say, 'by their isms, shall ye know them.' For me, the world of food, was my own political platform, running a close second to my eco warrior existence.

I’m reminded of this when I watch a programme on BBC America, which mentions the words “aduki bean.” I immediately lose the thread of the story and whiz back in time to when I was a real cook that ate real food.

I was a follower of the 'your body is a temple' institute for the ever so slightly deranged. Those were the days where Miso soup and home made flapjacks were the order of the day. No salt, no sugar, no harmful fats. If it didn't have the word 'whole' in it, then it would never pass over the threshold into the house of pure. My kitchen was filled with bean sprouters and home made yoghourt fermenting on a pilot light. Just say ‘no’ to the contamination of British youth. I had one perfect daughter on the perfect diet.

My idea of fast food and a culinary treat would have been a handful of dried apricots, almonds or a smattering of yoghourt coated peanuts and raisins, knocked back with a glass of Lassi. Convenience food was a banana. No food was too obscure not to be tried at least once. Bombay mix and Tamari sesame seeds, quinoa and couscous, anything to tickle those taste buds. Health food store heaven.

Then, a couple of decades later, the other lot came along to rattle my silver cage and shatter my glass house. It was about the same time that I fell of my pedestal with a splat. The purity of the nutrients that my children imbibed, were of an entirely different order. My holier than thou attitudes were swept aside with one hearty tug to the table cloth and the whole food pyramid came tumbling down. After I'd swept up, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was dealing with food issues of an entirely different magnitude. The magnetic force of my culinary skills turned to rust and plans to dust. My ivory tower had been vanquished by neophobes, the most mighty of conquerors for the average middle aged mum.

It is with a heavy heart that I follow the occupational therapist’s advice. My youngest son is to be introduced to meat, in the form of little hot dog sausages. Flavourles and textureless. We have ploughed through social stories, all leading up to this momentous moment. I ensure that they are room temperature to give him the best possible chance of success. They glisten in the bowl. They do not look particularly appetizing but I am assured that this is the first step in the long road towards ‘hot dogs on the 4th of July.’

The desensitization campaign commences.

“Are you ready dear?”
“So we’re going to look at it first with our eyes. Can you use your good describing words for me?”
“It is be brown and huge and it is being a wiener.”
“Excellent! How about we smell it now? What does it smell of dear?”
“It be smell like poison!”
“Hmm. How about you lick it now.”
“Um o.k. how about you just touch it with your finger instead.”
“I am have dah M & M if I touch?”
“Yes. Touching it would be very brave indeed!”
He extends a tremulous finger tip, the baby finger, the least sensitive of all his digits. I watch, silent as I don’t want to jinx him. As his finger tip makes contact he lets rip with a blood curdling howl and a 30 mph exit screaming “my wiener is wet!”

Maybe I should revise the campaign date? 4th July 2009 perhaps?

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