Taking it For the Victory it Is

AJ ate Cheerios today. That is one of the big toddler milestones—self-feedingCheerios. AJ is 8. To say that feeding him has been a challenge is like saying some people might think astrophysics is off-putting. It’s just one of the struggles in our day when I stop and think about it (and I typically choose not to do that), but it is one of those struggles that I have a hard time with. Picky eater doesn’t come close to describing him. I wish he was just a picky eater. His autism makes him freak out about colors and textures of the things he eats and it gets very complicated. At this point—and it has been a struggle getting here because all he actually wants is milk–he eats corn, chicken nuggets, and one brand of pancakes.

Or at least, he used to eat one brand of pancakes. All of the stores in the area have been out of them for the last three weeks. I always have a reserve in our freezer but not enough to last me this long. I called the company and found out they aren’t making them anymore—seems nobody but AJ liked the taste. I hung up the phone and felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. Noooooooooooooo. What am I supposed to do now?

I immediately texted AJ’s behavior therapist, Gabby. We ruled out trying to trick him by substituting a different pancake in the old box—they are a unique shape, and so we would have had to outright lie about why they looked different. Our hands were forced—it meant trying something new. We went back and forth a little about what we should offer and finally decided on cereal. Cheerios seemed like it would be worth a shot alongside something like Corn Pops, which might also be something he would be willing to try.

I ran to the grocery store to get the cereals and then picked the boys up from the bus stop. Gabby pulled in right as we were walking up to the house. Gabby explained to AJ what we were going to do today, along with the reward he would get if he complied.AJ didn’t want to comply. First, he demanded to know why we were forcing him to try something new.Once we told him the news, there was a kick and scream fest. I had to take Hugh out of the room through the worst of it because he was in danger of sensory overload due to the noise.

It took Gabby an hour to get AJ settled down enough to try anything. The first three pieces he attempted, with getting to play a new game on Gabby’s iPad each time, made him gag so he freaked out about it. But it was more of a behavior thing than an actual problem, so Gabby was able to handle it. Five tries later and he had actually eaten two whole Os.

On the one hand, it seems pathetic to be excited that he ate two stinkin’ Cheerios. I know seven-month-olds who can do more than that. But on the other hand, AJ is not most kids, and I have to look at this like the achievement it really is: like a toddler doing long division. It is something that is so incredibly challenging for him to do. It took some work but he did it. And that—regardless of the task—is worth celebrating, right?