The Forbidden Fruit

What happens when your children won’t eat?


I laugh when I hear parents talk about their children not liking fruit or vegetables. The old story of finishing your vegetables before you get any pudding. Our biggest fight, in our ten years of parenting, has been about eating. This may be the one area where we have similarities between both children (aside from sleep these days). 


The only reason our children are not on feeding tubes at this point is because my wife and I said no. No to the feeding therapists, no to the doctors, and no to the nutritionists. Our children were not going to be “tube fed”, even if it killed us. And it almost did.


As young parents, you tend to follow the guidebook when it comes to eating, changing diapers, and pretty much every other thing you have never done before. We followed the milk protocols and then moved on to blended foods, and finally solids. Here is where we faced the biggest issue – how do you get vegetables and fruits into kids that refuse? Or even worse, kids who are nonverbal and may just not understand. 


Our first solution was to cook it into muffins. Then, you try and disguise it into any other food that they were eating at the time. The real problem is that children with autism tend to drop foods or activities, and then pick them back up at the drop of a hat. In fact, my current office is subletting as a grocery store because of the amount of food we hold depending on what the kids decide they want to eat month to month.


Truth be told, my wife and I both thought we were hitting the requirements by cooking the way we did. It wasn’t until my oldest started limping that it created a series of unfortunate events. Thirteen visits to the emergency room over three months and finally they had to admit him because we wouldn’t leave.


Even then, it took a chance encounter with an individual who is now our full-time pediatrician. Ashton had a vitamin C deficiency, he had scurvy. We were not getting enough nutrients into his system by disguising the vegetables and fruits. A day later, and a whole bunch of IV nutrients, he was walking, and we were discharged. They told us to meet with the feeding team. 


This next encounter is why I am writing our story. Nobody understands your children like you do, and everybody always goes towards the line of least resistance.


He needed to be on a feeding tube; the message was clear and all four specialists in the room had predetermined their answer. A week earlier was the first time we knew he wasn’t getting enough food in certain areas, and now they wanted to put a tube directly into his stomach to feed him. 


Other options were presented but then dismissed because they “probably” would not work in our circumstances. We left, my wife in tears, and me angry. In less than an hour, the professionals who were there to help us concluded that we needed to change Ashton’s entire life. Everything he liked doing, from swimming to jumping and everything else in between, would be affected. 


We were going to do it another way.


Four months later, sitting in a therapy session with multiple professionals, Ashton picked up a piece of carrot and put it into his mouth. You could probably hear the cheers of the staff from a block away. 


Using a new model of therapy, ABA (applied behaviour analysis), our children were eating. Not only were they eating vegetables and fruits with intensive therapy, but they were also swallowing a multivitamin that a few months prior would have had to be forcibly choked down. 


Numerous hours of my wife’s time, and the right experts in the room (with whom we will identify in our thank you later as they saved our children’s lives), and we have not looked back. It is not easy, and it will be part of their therapies until they grow old and grey, but we did it –  and for that I am so proud. It feels like a win.


Most families take a lot for granted. Eating out in a restaurant with their children for example. We are starting to work towards this feat, but then again, little victories. 


Ashton and Trystan continue to try new foods once in a while, and never for their parents (they act like teenagers in some aspects of life). Usually, it’s because of a grandparent, or even something one of our team members is eating. A breakfast sandwich, a burger, a Tim Horton’s coffee. 


The moment you believe you have it figured out is the moment you realize you know nothing at all.