So my husband and I are doing flips today over fruit cups. Yes, I said fruit cups. It's a little like Jeff Foxworthy's You Know You're A Redneck When.
So today ours is You Know You're Raising A Selective Eater When...You are calling friends and relatives because your child ate fruit from a Dole fruit cup AND they get just as excited as you do!
Here's the deal. We have been working on fruits and vegetables for quite some time and have made incredible success; except that all the fruits or vegetables had to be raw, they could not be in a can, they could not be cooked, they could not be anything but how the good Lord made them (if I add a Sam I am in this paragraph I've got a new Seuss book!). Ewan's fruit also could not be too juicy or too wet. Accepted foods included fresh, raw fruit like apples, grapes, bananas, maybe oranges and a few other seasonal ones.
Well, little brother Vaughn has been chaining fruit and made the jump to canned and packaged fruits in syrup. He began eating peaches and pears and cherries out of the Dole fruit cups a few weeks ago and big sis also eats these for snacks or in lunches. So one of my goals lately has been to get Ewan to explore the whole fruit in a cup idea and to expand his understanding of how else fruit can be prepared.
We basically have been focusing on Vaughn and opening up the fruit cup, swishing and stirring the fruit, dumping the juice into another container and mixing it with something else, using toothpicks to eat some of the fruit, drinking the syrup that it comes in, and more. Ewan was the quiet, unobtrusive observer throughout all this and if I've said 100 times, I'll say it 100 more...peripheral vision is a huge tool for kids on the spectrum and just when you think they are not looking, they are and they are able to take the information in, in a safe and measured way.
Last night I broke out the fruit cups at dinner and I gave one to Vaughn and one to Ewan. Vaughn hesitated and Ewan looked a little unnerved at this and so I just asked the boys to smell the fruit cup and they did. I asked how they rated the smell, both rated good. So I then asked them to lick something on it and they did. I asked how they rated that, both rated good. So I pushed further and focused on Vaughn for a minute to remind him of his bite chart (works for Vaughn not so much for Ewan!). Vaughn went on to take a bite and I asked him how he rated it and he said good. Once Vaughn gets going using the bite chart, he can actually take off on his own in terms of independently eating. Ewan needs a little more prompting.
So I am trying to be very careful with my language with Ewan and I'm just observing him to see what he does. He is watching Vaughn out of the corner of his eye and watching Vaughn use his bite chart. Then he starts to explore the food a little more with his fingers and licking. I can see that the visual aspect to this fruit in syrup is a little unnerving to him. But I don't push for him to take a bite, I just wait it out. If I push he's just as liking to throw it all up on my table, and yesterday was not the day for cleaning that up!
Finally, Ewan takes the tiniest bite of the fruit on his own. I quickly ask how he rated that and he said good. So I borrowed Vaughn's bite chart to see if it might work with Ewan in this situation. I asked him to take off a symbol and have another fruit. He did, albeit a little hesitantly, and I asked him again how he rated it and he said good. We took the symbol off the bite chart and I said have another fruit (there were four bite symbols on the page, very easy to see how much and where to start and end). He did and again rated it good. We went through this until all the bite cards were done. I then asked if he would like more and he came up with his own number and said three more, so to help him visually I put up three more symbols on the bite chart. Eventually we ate and rated through this bite chart and I asked him if he would like any more and this time he said two more. Again, I put up two more symbols on the bite chart. We went through this until the fruit cup was half gone and Ewan said, "I'm done".
So as I sit down this morning and play Monday morning quarterbacking on a Sunday, I sit and analyze what the heck happened last night and will it play out again. For one, I believe language has to be very careful and I've learned to avoid the loaded word 'bite' with my boys. I either say lick the food, smell the food, taste the food, explore the food, would you like more, are you all done, but I try to avoid saying take a bite. Sure, it still comes out every now and then, I am human after all, but I've learned that for Ewan at least, 'bite' and 'eat' have a connection that he's not entirely comfortable with. Words like smell, taste, explore, lick, more, and all done give him the tools he needs to learn more about what is in front of him in a controlled way with a little less pressure.
Now, if at any time Ewan had rated anything bad, I would have known it's time to move on. I used the ratings that Ewan provided as my guide. I watched his facial expressions and there were times that if I had to rate his experience off his expression alone I would have said bad. He scrunched up his face, shook a little, and his eyes got really big. I think, if I had to make an educated guess here, that what Ewan was reacting to was the texture of the fruit all wet and smooth, the mixture of the fruit with a syrup in his mouth and dealing with chewing and swallowing all that without losing control of any of the steps. So when he rated the food good, I think the flavor is what reeled him in to keep exploring past the textures and multiple layers of fruit in a syrup. The fruit like flavor that we have been chaining for so long with either real fruit, fruit flavored fruit chews, and icees, and juices has helped us.
Now if some of you remember, a few weeks ago we were at a Chinese buffet (the mother of all restaurants for a feeding kid!) and we got Ewan and Vaughn one peach each in a bowl. Ewan was not quite ready to eat it as he plainly told us but he was willing to smell and lick it. He rated both good but plainly was not ready for more. Since then, we thought that peach might be an option if we could get past the textures so we looked for peach fruit chews, peach flavored drinks, and more. We talked about peaches, read about peaches, and thanks to the Smash Day idea, we smashed the crap out of peaches! For all of these he all rated as good and great or fun, so I am very excited to see Ewan actually move on to the real McCoy and rate the actual peach as good.
Maybe Cheri will offer some more insight for us all! ;)