This is a pretty new project. As I write this, Beckett has tasted 25 new foods in 25 days. This is a miracle.
Beckett was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at age 4. Colloquially, his form of autism is called Asperger’s Syndrome, but that is no longer the “official” term. Although he breast fed and, to the best of my memory, tried new solid foods at a relatively typical rate as a toddler, by the time he was 3 years old he had already begun rejecting foods he had previously eaten, such as yogurt, strawberries, and a few other foods. He refused more and more foods, until all he would eat were Cheerios, dry. He would drink milk. Weirdly, we were able to introduce soy sausage links (something his older sibling liked) and he started eating those, and for ages it was just Cheerios and soy sausages.
Over the years, we were able to convince him to try a few other things, including peanut butter. He likes chocolate (surprise!) so we were, for a time, able to blend up spinach in chocolate milk, until he eventually began to detect the slightly different flavor. He would eat a handful of different forms of simple carbohydrates: goldfish crackers, Hawaiian dinner rolls, cinnamon bread. Raisins. (Alone, not in anything). And he like baked sweets, such as chocolate chip cookies (no nuts!) and plain chocolate cake. Occasionally, he would be willing to eat banana bread. In short, no fruit, no vegetables, no cheese, yogurt, beans or legumes. No meat. He grew thinner and thinner.
In addition to an unwillingness/inability to eat the vast majority of foods, he grew increasingly intolerant of even being in the presence of foods. The smells of cooking foods, the sounds of people eating, nauseated him. He isolated himself in his bedroom, eating the limited items he took in there. He did not participate in family or holiday meals. At our family camp, he would not even enter the dining hall, which was a major social center for the rest of us.
I have long searched for some treatment to help him overcome these aversions. We have worked with an occupational therapist, a children’s psychotherapist, and have asked a series of pediatricians for help. Nothing worked. Eventually, someone passed along an article to me about a young man in the UK who had been eating only a single brand of sausages for a decade or more, and whose diagnosis was called “ARFID”-Avoidant-Resistant Food Intake Disorder (a diagnosis that none of the professionals we had previously consulted ever mentioned). I looked online and it appears that most of the attention to this condition is in the UK and Australia. The most effective treatment, it seems, is hypnosis. The young man in the article had had dramatic results from a series of hypnotherapy sessions, and is able to eat a wide variety of foods now. I looked for a hypnotherapist in our area.
The closest one I found that worked with children was an hour and a half drive from our home in northern California. We went twice in person, and Beckett then did four sessions via zoom. He didn’t like it, and it did not seem to help. (This hypnotherapist had no specific experience working with kids with autism, or with ARFID, but he had helped other clients with phobias.) We discontinued those treatments and I continued to search, eventually finding Diana Leach, a hypnotherapist in Australia, who works with clients over the phone. She and I e-mailed back and forth quite a bit. She did have experience with ARFID and with kids with autism (and with clients who met both criteria, although the total number was just a few). We were pretty desperate, and Beckett was willing, so we signed up for some sessions with her.
After the first session, Beckett walked up to me and said, “I liked that, I would like to do that again, and I want to try a new food.” That evening, he ate several bites of a carrot, for the first time in his life. My mind was blown, and I ended up in tears of relief. Since then, he had several more sessions with Diana and, while he did not eagerly jump into new foods, his intense aversion to simply trying a new food subsided (certain foods still trigger his disgust, and we are not pushing any of them!) After a few weeks of occasionally trying a bite or two of a new item, it occurred to me that he might be willing to try more new things if we created a project out of it. He is a gifted artist and loves to draw quirky comic-style illustrations. So, his year of new food reviews project was born. I set up this blog to make the reviews available to as wide an audience as possible. I hope he will help other kids and their parents who have struggled with food aversion. I am happy to connect with folks who are going through this issue.
I’m handling the “tech” such as it is. Eventually, we hope to turn the collection into a book, and I imagine he’ll redo the art! For now, this is the most straightforward way to launch his experience out to the world. Thanks for joining us.
The dates and the “numbers” don’t align because we started on his birthday. So day 1 was June 29.