In my last article, we talked about the basics of preparing for “Grid Down” due to hurricanes when you have a special needs child or loved one with Autism.
We also talked a little bit about Autism Spectrum Disorder and how it affects my two children who are 3 and 7 years old.
Today, we’re going to go a little bit in-depth on one of the basics of prepping: Food.
Let’s review some special needs prepping ideas and philosophies regarding food for your loved ones with Autism.
Feeding difficulties are common in people who have Autism.
Many children (and adults) diagnosed with Autism have feeding difficulties. This means that it is difficult for them to eat or that they cannot eat many foods. The difficulties range from mild to severe and everything in between. My children do not have severe difficulties such as the need for feeding tubes, but they do have Sensory Processing Disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder affects my children in lots of ways, but especially regarding how and what they are able to eat. Many children have this disorder even if they do not have an Autism Diagnosis.
Specifically for my children, Sensory Processing Disorder means that they are not able to tolerate certain textures or colors of foods. For example, neither one of them can tolerate smooth textures like yogurt, but they both tolerate certain crunchy foods. My oldest son likes beige, crunchy foods like tortillas, crackers, and cheese to name a few. My youngest son has a little bit more flexibility, but his food preferences are similar. They each have foods they can reliably eat on a regular basis. The foods are pretty specific. These are called, “safe foods.”
Each child has about 8-12 food items that they will reliably eat. This may seem like a small number of foods, but that number is hard-earned. That number of foods comes after a lot of patient and gentle effort and feeding therapy. We also include supplements and vitamins to make up for any deficiencies in their diets as best we can.
How is this different from picky eating?
It is very important to realize that eating is not a simple process. It is a highly complex process that involves many factors and many parts of the body. Eating is not easy for some children (or adults), including many on the Autism Spectrum. It affects our bodies from the moment we see it all the way through to our digestion of the food. If it’s not a food we are used to eating or it is something we don’t particularly like, eating that food can be very unpleasant, or even worse, have unpleasant or even painful after-effects.
So-called “Picky Eating” varies from person to person, but the basics of what a person can comfortably tolerate eating stay the same. If you don’t like the food, you’re not going to enjoy eating it. Or, in the case of many people with Autism, you won’t eat at all.
“If They’re Hungry Enough, They Will Eat It.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this phrase and it hurts my heart each time.
It’s just not true.
My children and many others with similar disorders will just stop eating if they are denied their “safe foods.” There are documented cases of children and adults who had to be put on feeding tubes because their list of safe foods grew smaller and smaller until they could not tolerate eating anything. This is many times the case for elderly people as well.
We have experienced this issue of “eliminating” foods with both our children. Thankfully, it wasn’t for long. We’re the lucky ones.
We were able to resolve the issues with the help of therapy, but it was a scary time.
Our 7-year-old stopped eating his quesadillas because we tried to change ingredients without telling him. Quesadillas are his main source of protein and one of his few “safe foods.” We tried to sneak in broccoli and my oldest child stopped eating that safe food altogether. He has limited communication abilities, so he didn’t tell us he didn’t like it. He just stopped eating it.
His “safe food” was no longer “safe.”
Thanks to feeding therapy, he will now at least “try” different foods and he started eating his quesadillas again. However, we realized that it’s best to just ask him to try it instead of sneaking it into his foods. Sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t, but he gives it his best effort and so do we.
My youngest child, for a very long two weeks of his life (for his parents at least), would only eat Goldfish crackers and Oreos. After lots of gentle food therapy, he has added a lot more foods to his diet including fruits.
At the moment, they both have a relatively balanced diet, but it’s limited and specific.
Now to play devil’s advocate:
Will the average neurotypical person eat something they don’t like when they’re starving? Probably.
Would you want to count on this if you’re caring for a loved one with special needs during a stressful disaster scenario? Not really. I sure don’t.
Then, what should be done?
“Store What You Eat, Eat What You Store”
This is an old adage in the preparedness community, and it holds true for your loved ones with Autism too.
This common-sense attitude is how you can start preparing for “Grid Down” special needs food preparation.
How Do I Start?
If possible, include your loved one in the decision process.
1. Make a list with your child or loved one of foods they feel safe eating.
2. Make a list of the shelf-stable foods.
3. Make a list of non-shelf stable foods.
4. Make a list of ingredients to make non-shelf stable foods if possible.
5. Stock up on shelf-stable foods.
6. Practice making non-shelf stable foods if possible.
7. Stock up on ingredients.
I’ll include more on how I’ve started storing away both shelf-stable and perishable “safe foods” for my children in my next article.
In the meantime, I’m including some resources regarding feeding difficulties:
Making these lists while including your loved one in the decision process can make preparations easier. Remember, gently incorporating new foods can be fun and exciting instead of stressful and agonizing. Keep patience and gentleness at heart and keep prepping!
What do you think?
Do you prep for someone who has special needs? Do you have any tips to share to make prepping easier? Do you have a family member with difficulty eating a variety of foods? What are your loved one’s safe foods and how do you plan to store them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About Jenny Jayne
Jenny Jayne is the mother of two wonderful boys on the Autism spectrum and is passionate about Autism Advocacy. She is a novelist who writes Post-apocalyptic fiction and a freelance writer. Her first novel is coming soon to Kindle eBooks near you. Her guilty pleasures are preparing for hurricanes, drinking hot coffee, eating milk chocolate, reading romances, and watching The Office for the 50th time. Her website: https://jennyjayneauthor.wordpress.com/