L’il Ainjil, like many autie kids, has pica – meaning that he eats almost anything inedible. Bits of paper found on the floor and fluff picked off my clothes are favourites, but basically everything goes in his mouth – as long as it’s something you can’t actually eat. Offer him a slice of cake and he’ll shout, ‘NO! I want to say NO CAKE!’, but fishing carpet fluff and rubber bands out of his little maw is apparently a lifelong project.
Hence this last-thing-at-night conversation:
Beardie: Could you put my chewing gum on the table, please? I don’t want L’il Ainjil getting into it.
Beardie: Actually, you know what would work better? I should let him see me chewing the gum so he realised it was food.
… And you know what? Beardie is absolutely right. Let L’il Ainjil see that the chewing gum is food, and his urge to put it in his mouth will instantly evaporate.
I feel the temptation to start offering L’il Ainjil bits of paper and plastic on a plate, but I should probably resist.
L’il Ainjil more or less lives on bread, smoothies and fruit; the bread has four allowable toppings. The mercy is that I decided to start him on healthy eating and let him find out about crisps and chocolate when he got old enough to go to birthday parties. It didn’t quite work that way – nobody’s inviting him to birthday parties – but it did at least mean that at the age when his autistic crash really started to clatter down and he took to refusing all but a few selected foods, the foods he was willing to eat were reasonably healthy and added up to a sort-of balanced diet.
This puts us way ahead of many autie parents, who through sheer bad luck have to deal with the daily guilt-ritual of choosing between letting their kid eat nothing but a packet of crisps and some olives or letting their kid starve. Outsiders really struggle to grasp that those are the only choices, but trust me: trying to make an autie kid eat something that’s off the Permitted List is about as easy as trying to make a neurotypical kid eat a piece of dog shit. Heck, it’d probably be easier to get the dog shit down – not that I’ve tried it, o’course, but at least neurotypical kids can grasp that an adult is bigger and stronger than them. Auties just don’t clock that, and they never stop fighting. If you could bottle and burn it, autistic will would have the power to knock continents adrift.
So we’re luckier than many. Not better, just luckier. If L’il Ainjil had had slightly more sensory issues or fixated on other things, we’d be just as worried about malnutrition as everybody else.
There’s always the risk of the Permitted List shrinking, though: you have to keep the items on it in regular circulation to stop them drifting into the dark netherlands of the Unfamiliar. L’il Ainjil is like the English Common Law: law is determined by precedent. (If you know lawyers, that’s a funny joke. Honest.)
So here’s one of my daily calculations: how shall I slice this piece of bread? Two pieces or four? Criss-cross squares or triangles? Because the thing is, I gotta keep mixing it up. Triangles last time? I’d better do squares. What did I do last time? Oh man, I don’t know – better do two big pieces ’cause I don’t do that very often. How many times in a row could I cut the bread the same way before he started refusing any other kind? I don’t know, and I’m not eager to find out. I can just picture the day we had to stop in a cafe and the waiter CUT THE BREAD THE WRONG WAY. It’d be epochal.
That’s how you end up standing over a slice of bread three or four times a day, wondering whether squares or triangles would be better for your child’s future. I swear, I’m a laid-back person at heart.
Beardie, to L’il Ainjil:
‘There’s no point getting upset. You’re the one who ate the yoga mat.’