And now time to eat

Many of us have images, either from our past or from the television, of family dinners. All the children sit around a table, behaving impeccably, not an argument to be heard. Mother smiles sweetly as she serves delicious looking meals to her grateful children and all sit down to eat and exchange family your dreams! If any of you with autistic children or even with more than one child experience anything remotely resembling this then I really must hear of your secret!

Mealtimes are one area where autism really does equal mayhem. Most of us with children anywhere on the autistic spectrum are painfully aware of how potentially explosive any mealtime can be. Autistic children often self-restrict their foods, are extremely particular about the presentation of the food, dislike certain temperatures, colours, textures and smells, loathe their foods fact mealtimes and autism really are a recipe for disaster! The rigidity of an autistic child can turn a supposedly pleasurable situation into a scenario worthy of a bootcamp!

Each morning in my vibrant household, breakfast is the first arena in which mayhem is created. Now Ben is talking more, he is making his needs known (with a vengeance!) and is very rigid about his meals. Breakfast must be served in the Tweenies bowl, with a Tweenies spoon and he must sit in exactly the same chair each time. Each morning, one of the elder children gets dragged off into the kitchen and showered with a stream of "I want breakfast" until he or she submits. Busy finding books and clothes and dealing with Joe, I invariably leave the teenagers to sort Ben out.and then suffer the consequences! After enough "I want breakfast" to grind them down, the next thing to be heard is a familiar crash as the bowl gets launched across the room. the wrong bowl has been used!

I am sure all of you parents of autistic children have your own morning routine that you have been manoeuvred into by these clever little folk? Some children with autism are flexible and not at all bothered iftheir patterns change, however others (Ben being the king of routine!) need order and routine. If a child has a tendency to such rigidity then it pays to introduce flexibility into his or her life as early as possible. Swap bowls and chairs and cups regularly and try not to let such inflexibility set in. I am struggling at the moment because if Ben does something one way or uses a bowl or spoon even once then that is a routine, set in stone and never to be broken. Whilst I can refrain from doing something twice, for fear of developing such rigidity, I have not fathomed how to refrain from doing something once!

When we do sit down to eat together (actually I cannot include myself in that one, I am usually too busy cleaning up mess and feeding Ben) I know now what to expect.a re-enactment of a chimps' tea party! (Sorry kids but you know it is true.) The dyspraxic boys invariably knock something over, the girls sit and chat away about boys and music and Luke talks to whoever will listen...about computers of course! I have still not managed to convince Joe that a knife and fork are not for holding in one hand and banging on the table whilst he eats his food with the other hand, and little Ben carefully stabs at pieces of food or picks it up with his fingers which he wipes daintily after every mouthful. If I expected a dignified family occasion then I would be sorely disappointed but if I want fun and love and laughter, then my multicoloured household is definitely the place to be.



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