July 7, 2017
by Chris

Warmhearted Inclusivity: How we view and serve the autism community

This piece first appeared on On Being, 3/12/16. It is reprinted here by permission from the author. Sign up for Chris’s five-day course in Unlocking Potential: Using the power of poetry, song and autism, August 7-11!

Bill and I are staring at a red-tailed hawk that lives at the Hallam Lake Nature Preserve in Aspen, Colorado. Many people assume that Bill, a 28-year-old with “classic” autism, lacks crucial human characteristics like empathy, theory of mind (the ability to intuit someone else’s perspective), and a nuanced attention to language.

On the surface, these assumptions might seem justified — Bill flaps his hands, has difficulty making eye contact, labors to carrying on a conventional conversation, and struggles to complete tasks as mundane as buying breakfast at the local coffee shop — but on this particular day Bill is going to prove all those people wrong, by writing a poem.

For decades now, a majority of professionals working with autistic kids and adults have chosen to single out social deficits like Bill’s for rigorous therapeutic attention, devoting immense time and effort to ridding them of autistic behaviors that diverge from the neurotypical norm. It turns out that most of these deficits belie an overlooked or undervalued strength. For instance, one of the several deficits listed under the diagnostic criteria for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in the DSM-5 is a predilection for “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.” In most cases, when a neurotypical person displays this same predilection we say they have a passion for something. One person’s restricted interest is another’s area of devoted study.

As a poet, I’ve always been fascinated by the inherent strengths of autistic writers, among them their care for the specificity of language, their sensory intelligence, and their ability to recognize patterns in sound and sense. A surprising and increasingly well-documented reciprocity between poetry and autism has taken shape, over the years, and it’s helped highlight a possible shift from the deficit model to a new approach where inherent strengths are given equal attention.

When we first arrived at the red-tailed hawk’s enclosure, our guide informed us that the raptor became a resident of Hallam Lake after a broken wing left it unable to fly. Upon hearing this news, Bill jumped up and down and grunted passionately. He seemed genuinely upset. To me it was an explicitly empathetic reaction, though Bill was too stimulated by the information to confirm his reaction verbally.

This is one of the problems with judging empathy. Research has shown that empathy is actually a process: it begins as emotional empathy, is translated into cognitive empathy, and is finally expressed using motor empathy. A 2009 article by Scottish researcher Adam Smith showed that people with autism actually possess more emotional empathy than their neurotypical counterparts, but significant challenges with cognitive empathy (understanding their own reaction) and motor empathy (communicating that reaction in a legible form) often make it impossible for their initial, emotional reaction to make itself known.

We were accompanied at Hallam Lake by an assortment of staff from Ascendigo, a non-profit serving the autism community through a rigorous mix of outdoor activities, sports, life skills, employment opportunities, and, increasingly, intellectual enrichment like creative writing. I had prepared a writing exercise for Bill and three other young men with autism. I asked them to pick one of the three protected raptors at Hallam Lake and study it closely, paying keen attention to what the bird hears and sees. I called this challenge a “Bird’s Eye” poem and wanted them to communicate the experience of a bird from the inside out, despite the fact that readers of the DSM-5 would imagine this task was beyond their social understanding.

Since Bill often finds the motor process of writing difficult, Diane Osaki, his brilliant and devoted occupational therapist, began by asking him some generative questions. At first, Bill’s responses corroborated the common prejudice that he lacks theory of mind, or the ability to imagine what another’s experience of the world might be:

The hawk is looking at me
The hawk is smiling at me

These first two lines of his poem seemed to confirm an autistic worldview, going back to the etymological root of autism: self-focused. But then Bill slowly allowed the bird’s own experience to enter and overtake the poem:

He spreads his wings
He scratches his feathers

Notice the shift in address from “the hawk” to “he,” demonstrating the autistic penchant for personification, wonderfully articulated in a recent paper and talk by poet and professor Ralph James Savarese. Personification is a common poetic trope, but even more common among those with autism, and it reveals their inclination toward warmhearted inclusivity.

Autistic thinkers welcome the participation of animals, trees, objects, and even weather into our human world of thought and action. The neurotypical brain is often too busy prioritizing strictly human content to sift through the rich, more-than-human world around them.

In this sense, the neurotypical brain possesses its own highly homogenous restricted interest: human social interaction. A great poet, however, must ground her work in sensory observations that move past the limited transactional nature of the purely human to get at the vast “real world” going on all around. And that’s what autistic writers do naturally:

The hawk hears rustling leaves
The hawk wants to fly
so he hears

For someone with profound language difficulty, a word like “rustling” is remarkably apt, and it sets the scene for a lovely aural trio linking the “L” sounds of rustling, leaves, and fly. But these final lines seemed unfinished at first. Diane kept asking what it is the hawk hears, and Bill repeatedly indicated that the poem was complete.

To our ears, the sentence needed its final noun, but Bill saw (or heard) it differently.

I stood next to him, watching the hawk tilt its head upward, searching the trees and the sky beyond them, shifting focus to listen to an airplane in the distance. That’s when I realized that Bill had successfully adopted the bird’s eye (or ear) view. The poem was finished precisely because the hawk had a broken wing. She couldn’t fly out to meet these sounds and sights, as much as she clearly desired to do so. She could only hear flight as it was embodied by distant airplanes and other birds. Not only was the poem complete, but through its seeming incompleteness it dramatized the life of a bird who had been cut off from its central ability.

Perhaps it’s time to reimagine how we view and serve the autism community. A social deficit, like attending equally to all facets of the environment, can be restaged as an ethical strength, enlarging what we care for and about. We often demand that people with autism learn how to act more like “us,” some specious version of normal. But what if we spent more time trying to understand how each individual voice, precisely because it is different, might contribute to a larger and more invigorating conversation about who “we” are and how we’re changing to meet an increasingly complex and diverse world?

When we think of unique and caring individuals like Bill as a collection of deficits, we not only risk alienating them, but also the parts of ourselves that exist necessarily outside the so-called norm. We must remain open and assume ability, so we don’t miss out on crucial lessons like the one Bill taught us this day at Hallam Lake, as he deftly tapped into the vicarious life of a crippled bird.


July 3, 2017
by JeanneLovesBooks

Jeanne Loves Books – July

If You Plant a Seed, by Kadir Nelson

This larger-than-usual picture book has sparse text and illustrations that are large, dramatic, and wonderfully realistic. But those few words carries a big message.

Two friends – mouse and rabbit – plant carrot, tomato, and cabbage seeds. They treat them with “love and care,” and they get wonderful vegetables in their garden. When rabbit and  mouse are ready to eat their vegetables, strangers show up. Suddenly, in a wonderful double spread with no words, a big cardinal, bluebird, crow, dove and sparrow are looking right at the reader and, presumably at the vegetables (behind the reader). They are hungry, and rabbit and mouse have to decide if they will share their bounty.

At first they don’t. The story tells us that if “you plant a seed of selfishness” in no time you will have a “heap of trouble.” That trouble is shown in a two-page spread of a big scuffle between the gardeners and the birds. So rabbit and mouse try a different approach. They do share, and we read, “you plant a seed of kindness,” the fruits of kindness “will grow and grow.” The illustrations show the birds spreading seeds, and then we see a new, larger garden. The final result of kindness is “very, very sweet.” The last pages are a wonderful two-page spread of many animals and birds sharing all the vegetables in the new, bigger garden.

This is a nice retelling for young children of the idea that you reap what you sow, and it explores the reasons to choose kindness and generosity. It also greatly expands the idea of planting a seed and what that can mean.

Pop-Up Peekaboo! Things that Go – DK Publishing

This interactive flap book combines sturdy flaps and pop-ups with moving parts. This is a great combination for little ones who have trouble engaging with books. The pop-ups are colorful and fun. There is some good language like scoop, choppy, lighthouse, hot air balloon, and things to identify and talk about on each page.

Pop-Up Peekaboo! by DK is a series. In addition to Things That Go, there is Woof! Woof! (animals), Farm, Bedtime, and Meow! (kittens)

Fun with Reading

  • Discuss what is happening in the illustrations. Why is a stick poking up out of the mound where Rabbit and Mouse plant the seed?
  • The illustrations in If You Plant a Seed show a lot of emotions. Ask/Discuss what the animals appear to be feeling.
  • Notice that the tomatoes and cabbage have grown above ground – where is the carrot? Ask what other vegetables grow above and below ground.
  • There are no words on the page where the birds are shown looking at the reader. Ask what do you think they are thinking.
  • In Pop-Up Peekaboo! all the pop-ups are behind the flap. Stress the word behind to emphasize the meaning of it.
  • Where it says, Let’s look behind, pause and ask your child if they are ready to look behind. Open the flap very slowly to maintain the suspense of what is behind it.
summer activities

May 26, 2017
by Beth

Summer Activities for Kids with Autism

Every spring, I drag my feet into planning summer activities for my kids. I don’t really like to plan ahead and wading through summer camps to find the ones that will work is a daunting task when you have a child with autism.

But I need time during the summer when my children are active and engaged with peers and in environments where they can be safe and successful. So I steel myself and start the process. With a seven year-old on the autism spectrum, signing up for summer activities involves a lot more than time, date and location. I need to know “where we’re at” in terms of challenges and interests and to figure out a good mix of supports for him.

And “where we’re at” changes every year.

Last year the series of half-day camps felt like too much for my son, so we opted for once-a-week tennis and swimming lessons as well as a flexible drop-in park program. This year, he seems up for a little more intensive activities, opting for a sport and a week-long nature program camp.

Finding the right balance between his needs and the family’s is another intricate dance. The past two years, we have been doing more weekend camping as a family, which means weekdays need to be flexible for unpacking and regrouping.

My role navigating support systems for him has evolved. When he was four, I was an especially tender mama bear, hovering and worried. My concerns back then were about recognizing the need for bathroom breaks and, literally, picking him up off the ground when he flopped with discouragement. So I called on Reach for Resources to get an aid to be with him for a week-long nature program and weekly sports activities.

At five, we did the nature program without support because

  1. My son was comfortable with the staff, the setting, and a friend or two who had also registered and
  2. I had come to trust the staff’s calm confidence about and awareness of his challenges. Importantly, my son has always seemed to decompress and become more organized, engaged, and calm outdoors.

I am encouraged by the way we have all grown. I have more understanding of and respect for my son’s preferences and comfort zones. His capacity to think about and name what he does and does not want to do guides us both to the right fit for him, freeing us to try new things.

Last summer’s drop-in park program was a new adventure for us. I really wanted it to work, as I could drop both my kids off for crafts, reading, and outdoor play. But I was concerned that the staff was young – college and high school students. My son was pretty flexible and able to advocate for himself in simple situations (although social situations were still a struggle).

So I created a simple handout about my son to give to staff. It encourages them to engage him with curiosity and creativity rather than react in surprise and with discipline. We had a couple of bumps with his impulsive reactions to conflict or overwhelming situations, but it was successful overall.

This summer looks to be a more intensive support summer, as my son has been anxious, inflexible, and getting into scuffles at school. I have some paperwork from Reach for Resources to fill out and might request an aid to help him self-regulate and walk away from, rather than kindle, conflicts. In light of our inclusion goal and peer social awareness, I will ask the aid to dress like the main program staff and interact with all the kids while keeping an eye on mine. I may also look into explicitly autism-friendly programs for the first time this summer.

Summer planning is like a little dance we start warming up for each spring. Rhythm and balance, intuition, observation, and respect for my whole child help me move with him and keep in step. We have had and will have missteps. We will shift and adjust as we go and, hopefully, invite others into our dynamic, curious, and caring movement.

sensitive storytime

April 8, 2017
by Editorial Team

Sensitive Family Time in Roseville

Sensitive Family Time has arrived in Roseville!

On Fridays, the Roseville Library opens the children’s area early for families of children who have special sensory needs. This service is for children who need a quieter setting than regular library hours provide. The library opens as usual for the general public at 10:00 am. A staff person will be on hand for tours or to answer questions.

  • WHEN: Fridays, 9:00 – 10:00 am
  • WHERE: Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Avenue North, 55113

Please call Nicole or Jennifer with any questions at 651-724-6032.


April 7, 2017
by Beth
1 Comment

Your Child’s Best Advocate

“You are your child’s best advocate.” How often have I heard these words uttered in affirmation, intended to empower? Before my child needed an advocate, I was just his mom.

I carried him, nurtured him, and loved him so deeply. Always a snuggly bug, he would pull my hand into his crib, form it to cup his cheek, and then fall asleep. Beginning with our first winter walk when he was just days old, we have been “explorers” together, sharing our wonder at this beautiful world.

His father and I have grown along with him, formed by our first child. We can see through his lens and have adopted it as our own. We have accepted and adapted to his affinities and aversions, bridging the gaps in his communication with habitual responses that make the days seem typical. When he was two and three, we shared his excitement about street signs, touching each one we walked past at his not-technically-verbal insistence. We are a little system. Interdependent.

Of course, we are uncertain, unsteady at times. Aren’t all parents? Worries simmer subconsciously, then bubble into questions tentatively voiced into reality. Can he hear me? Why the calm, curious gaze in the face of stern reprimand? We stretch to count his words. We assess. Alongside his little fuzzy-headed peers, we see growing gaps that aren’t quite bridged by “He’s just a boy.” The screening checklist opens up questions. Does reaching count as pointing to what he wants? The questions pile up. Why not get more information, I ask, with naiveté.

Questions yield home visits, questionnaires and interviews, play therapy, and an abundance of resources. Distrust, anger, resentment, and confusion—expressions of grief—swirl inside me but I push them down. These teacher-therapists are delightful and caring. He enjoys their games, their attention. At times, he is also clearly miffed as they interrupt his intense focus or urge him to make choices and use words. I observe, being coached in strategies for joint attention and communication and collecting visual schedules. He enjoys this and it can’t hurt! This isn’t about me. I shouldn’t stand in the way of what he, apparently, needs.

“You are your child’s best advocate.” At first, I embrace the role with pride. I bow my head to receive this imaginary metal around my neck. Chest out. Chin up. Yes, his best advocate, indeed. They say I am just who he needs, a perfect fit. He is lucky. We seek private therapy as well, more practice, more resources. Around this growing table of other advocates for my child, they speak in a different language, a technical one. They have systems, paperwork, and assessments. I ask insightful questions, do additional reading, striving to master this new terrain.

I not only surmise that just being his mother is not enough, I assume that just being his mom could be a liability. I read far too much. I read about causes of autism and question my prenatal health, our tap water, my stress levels, and every single thing I have put in either of our bodies. I read about children and families vastly different from my own. For every glimmer of insight they offer, they cast a vast shadow of fear into our future. With only two years under our belts, we sense that our rhythm, our interdependent system was a farce and there is so much future to fear.

I weave the technical language and strategies into my understanding of my child and my role. I see myself as part of a system of supports and interventions to support his development. I am his best advocate because I am all encompassing—both parent and therapist. “Prognosis: Very good due to family support and carry-over of recommended activities as part of home programming,” the rehab treatment plan asserts.

But I cannot encompass so much. This metal I wore with pride is heavy. My shoulders ache. My head spins. My legs ache from the moment I wake. I feel a distance from this precious child sitting before me. Two veils have settled between us—one is my grief and the spinning questions that won’t subside and the other the strategies that a good advocate would take up better than I have. I am not enough. I cannot reach him anymore, but it is not because of autism.

Toilet Training

March 31, 2017
by Editorial Team

Toilet Training with Autism

from a CEA parent

My son did not toilet train completely until he was in elementary school. Before he was diagnosed with autism, we read the parenting books written for typical kids. I listened to the other parents in Early Childhood Family Education discuss what they were doing for toilet training and learned that the average age to toilet train was four. Ok, I thought, we have time.

Then our son was diagnosed with autism. We still kept up with the toilet training methods that had been recommended. We dutifully sat him on the toilet – first a little portable potty, then the big toilet with a stool under his feet. We sat and looked at picture books and photo albums, waiting for something to happen and for him to make the connection when it did. When there was finally some “movement,” he looked stricken and immediately cried. He didn’t want to do that again anytime soon, no matter how many times we read Everyone Poops.

We went to a behaviorist. Our son was not conversational at that point, but he seemed to “get it” as the man helped him to understand there was nothing to be afraid of when going to the bathroom. His anxiety seemed to lift after a series of appointments.

And although I had read that many kids with autism take longer to toilet train, all the other kids with  in his school program seemed to have the process down, and were independently using the toilet by the end of preschool while he still needed assistance. Discouraged by our own son’s difficulties, but determined to help him, we read Maria Wheeler’s book Toilet Training for Individuals With Autism Or Other Developmental Issues, which was helpful to collect information geared to a child with autism. We implemented many of her suggestions, including staying on a schedule and how to use rewards effectively.

We talked to his pediatrician. Since our son tended to constipation, we tried Miralax. When that didn’t help, we tried Milk of Magnesia, which helped a little bit, but not enough to make sitting on the toilet a success.

Eventually, he did start to get the idea of urinating in the toilet, but only if he was sitting down. It took a couple of years before he would try standing. And still no luck with a bowel movement in the toilet. 

And then we went to Anne Dudley’s toilet training class. Although the book had been helpful, it was even more helpful to hear information, methods, and encouragement in person from a teacher who “got it.” She was articulate and straightforward, and patiently answered questions from participants, including my own concerns. There was solidarity being in a group of other parents who were working on the same thing with their children. It helped my motivation and helped me persevere.

It gave me the renewed energy to take the next proactive steps. Although true that many kids with autism simply take longer to master going to the bathroom independently (so that much patience with the process is needed), sometimes there are also extra issues. Although we had already been to the doctor to address our concerns, the seminar gave me the push to consult a gastroenterologist for more problem-solving. It led to a hospital test and medical aid to help “clean him out,” and then eventually to probiotics, which is what finally helped his body to function “correctly” so that he could do his business.

Not everyone’s issues in the class were like ours and some had younger children who were quite close to success – their parents were just looking for that last bit of help to get the job done. As always, there is a lot of variety in the autism diagnosis, so each parent’s child was at a different point in the journey of toilet training. Sometimes our kids need a little extra help to learn, and as parents we need a little extra help to know how to teach them, even with a natural body process. Learning information from a trusted expert and with a community of parents helped all of us to take the best next steps for our child.

Join us for our next Toilet Training class on April 18 and access Anne Dudley’s tried and true tips!

emerging readers

March 17, 2017
by JeanneLovesBooks

Emerging Readers – March

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner

We haven’t had much snow this winter in Minnesota, so we need a book about snowmen. This story begins when a small child notices a snowman outside who changed overnight. It was drooping on one side, it’s hat had slipped, “He looked a fright.” What happened to the snowman overnight? Buchner tells a wonderful story, in short rhyming sentences, about the fun time the snowman had with other snowmen after the child and the world went to sleep.

Buchner shows all the winter activities that children love through delightful illustrations. The snowmen gather for skating, snowball fights, hot chocolate in the park, and they go sledding down a fabulous hill. They even make snowmen angels in the snow in a double page spread that is sure to bring smiles and giggles.

The illustrations show a lot of emotion which can be fun to notice and talk about. Would you be really happy or maybe a little scared going down a BIG snow hill on a toboggan?

As a bonus treat, the author reminds us that there are three hidden shapes (a rabbit, a cat and a Santa face) in the illustrations. It is a treasure hunt to look for them together.

emerging readers

Spot’s Toys Soft Book by Eric Hill

This book is the kind of baby book that can be very soothing as well as visually engaging. The book is composed of soft fabric pages some of which have crinkle paper inside. Crinkle paper makes a crackling sound when touched. This sound can have a very soothing effect for some kids. It may be that it is a compelling distraction, and it is not clear that it works for all infants, but it is a wonderful addition to strategies for soothing a crying baby.

This particular book is also a good pick as it has bright colors and large singular images on each page that have different textures. It also has limited, larger text on each page. Finally, it has plastic corners on the front corners for teething and plastic rings for grabbing.

Fun with reading

  • Talk about how to build a snowman – The first page shows a boy rolling two big snow balls; what are they for? What do the illustrations show for their noses, eyes and mouths?
  • Talk about the emotion on their faces – See if your child can show that emotion on his/her face.
  • Act out new words like drooping.- At the beginning and end the snowman is shown with his shoulder drooping. Also, the snowmen are described as tuckered out. It’s fun and helps vocabulary development to act out these words.
  • Crinkle paper can be purchased at some local gift stores that have baby/child sections as a single piece covered in colorful soft fabric. The individual sheets are great to keep in diaper bags etc.
  • Use the simple language and bright colors to engage your child in labeling and learning new words. Let them name each color, offer up other things that are “red,” etc.

February 21, 2017
by Margaret
1 Comment

Growing a Foodie, Part 4

It’s time to continue with our top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Refresh yourself on the first four here!

5)  Is it a motor planning thing?

Sometimes physical barriers keep your child stuck in a food avoidance pattern. Our son was not wild about meat, partly because he had trouble chewing it. As he got used to using his back teeth to chew (with the help of one of those sensory chews his occupational therapist provided), he was able to chew the meat better and found he liked it. He needs his protein, and meat is his main source. So discover if physical limitations are behind your child’s refusal to eat certain foods.

6)  Expected behaviors apply to mealtime too

Trying new foods and appropriate mealtime behavior are part of the expected behaviors we have for our son, and we try to reinforce this through explanations of what those behaviors are. These explanations are like a verbal Social Story in our house. You could always write your own Social Stories for each of the issues your child may be facing at mealtimes, whether is is trying a new food or staying at the table. Parents sometimes think eating should be an intuitive process, but I have found my son needs as much explanation, modeling and reinforcement with eating as he does in other challenging areas of his life.

7)  Experts can help

It’s worth considering a multi-vitamin to make sure your child is getting the vitamins and minerals she needs. Consult with your doctor if you are worried about your child’s nutrition. Our doctor was able to reassure us that our son’s growth chart was just fine, even with his limited diet. Try an occupational therapist if you have concerns about your child’s aversion to certain textures and tastes. And there are several centers that offer food clinics, where they specifically focus on addressing issues that interfere with eating. (See comments section for other local feeding clinics.)

8)  I’m too tired

There is one more reason why it can take so long to get my son to eat new foods: sometimes I just don’t have the energy to make the effort. Or the energy I have may need to go toward another issue that he is dealing with. I’ve learned that’s okay. If I’m stressing about finding foods for him, it doesn’t help. I love food and family dinners, so ultimately I want to make mealtime enjoyable, for all of us.

Taking it slow and steady helped keep me and my son relaxed during his process of learning to eat. I never thought curried lentils would be a standard meal in our house. But through helping our son try new foods, he has found a surprising favorite, and we did too!

This wasn’t enough, right? Discover the rest of Margaret’s tips and more at Food and Autism on February 28! more info>>

Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 to discover all of Margaret’s great tips!

February 7, 2017
by Margaret

Growing a Foodie, Part 3

Last time I shared some dinner table techniques I use to get my son to try new foods. Check them out here and here. But I want to move beyond the dinner table and share some of the things I learned while teaching my son to expand beyond a food jag or to let go of some of his pickiness. Over all, I found I had to adjust my ways with food just like him. As with everything, we are in this together!

1) Patience and empathy

Trying to get your child to eat a variety of foods can take a long, long time. This is a process and focusing on that instead of on the result will help you take the presssure off – yourself and your child.

When taking the first steps on this road, try to put yourself in your child’s place. I am somewhat adventurous with food, but I also have some issues. It’s those issues, that have allowed me to relate to my son’s. I have food jags too. I eat my Rice Chex every morning, without fail. I have a major sensory issue as well- crunching an onion in my mouth freaks me out. And if I’m stressed, I don’t reach for a carrot, I look for chocolate. When I keep all this in mind, I am much more patient with my son’s eating habits. And that patience and understanding allows me to invite change rather than force it.

2)  Go Slow

The best thing I learned from the gluten free/casein free diet had nothing to do with that diet. When my son was a toddler, his go-to foods were grapes and Cheerios. We started the gf/cf diet, so the Cheerios had to go. However, we weren’t one of those families who were able to go cold turkey onto the diet. I envied those who could pull that off.

We could eliminate foods only as we found a substitute that our son liked to eat. It took almost a year before we found alternatives that worked. It worked for our family to take it slow because it set a pattern of actively looking for foods that our son would try, no matter how long it took to find an acceptable food. The gf/cf diet may not be for your child, but you can still try a slow and steady approach to finding new, acceptable foods.

3)  Status quo is OK sometimes

Once we found foods our son liked that met his basic nutritional needs, he stuck with those for years. Sometimes it was literally five to 10 food that he would eat. I wasn’t always actively addressing this issue of limited foods, because I noticed that if he had the same food at mealtimes, he was able to focus on meeting expectations at the table. He didn’t have anxiety over the food, so we can work on other, more social, goals. Like how to use his utensils, or to clean up afterwards, or to converse with us at the table. It was too hard for him to try to master those skills while also trying new foods. On the plus side, his limited diet also cut down on unhealthy food choices. Although there wasn’t variety, it was all relatively healthy food. I felt comforted by this, which increased my patience with the process.

4)  Don’t you love schedules?

One thing that helped my son’s anxiety, when I started introducing some variety into the lunch he brought to school, was making a schedule so he would know what food he would be eating that day. Eventually, we fell back on consistent favorites for lunch and saved the variety for meals at home. And the only reason he was able to try some different foods when he went away to camp is because they provided a meal schedule beforehand that I could go over with him before he went to camp. He knew what to expect so it was okay.

I hope these first four strategies will help you navigate this food journey with your child. Taking a step back, reminding yourself of the process and applying what you know works for your child in other settings will keep you on track and happily pursuing the next food adventure.

Next, I will continue with these top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Discover the final four here!

Learn even more strategies for growing a foodie at our upcoming class on February 28!

Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4 of “Growing a Foodie.”

January 31, 2017
by Margaret

Growing a Foodie, Part 2

Last week I started us off on my journey through expanding my son’s food choices. Here are the next four tips in my top seven Eating Adventures strategies. Refresh yourself on the first three here!

4)  Try again . . . and again . . . and again . . . 

Keep this in mind – it takes 10 tries before our brains decide whether we truly like a food or not. So even if your child refuses the food, it is worth trying again. If our son is skeptical about trying something new, we just have him eat one or two pieces and wait until the next meal to try again. However, if the first piece makes him gag, then we know he’s not ready for it to be introduced over and over. We put it on our “try again in six months” list.

5)  The first step is just one bite

So this is great advice, but how do you even get your child to take that first bite? Not always easily, I’ll admit. Putting one piece on his small plate reduces his anxiety since he can literally see it will be just one bite. When we try again, I might try two pieces. Or I might up it to six pieces on the plate, depending on his reaction to that first bite.

When he protests, I will tell him he only has to eat three pieces. In this moment, he thinks he has ‘won.’ Or I remind him to close his eyes since that seems to help him take a bite. Sometimes the way a food looks – so new, so strange – is the barrier he needs to move beyond. We have made it a routine to put new foods in front of him, so that it’s an everyday thing.  If you can make the unknown, predictable, that is half the battle.

6)  Exposure can be a first step

There are some preferred foods that our son absolutely will not try in another form. One is his adored rice pasta. I would love it if he could try plain old rice, but I guess all those little grains are just too weird for him. In this case it is helping him to see us eat rice. I offer it to him each time we eat it. He says “no” and that’s okay; sometimes he needs to feel like he has some control over the situation. I just say, “maybe next time,” which he actually processes as a possibility over time. The fact that rice is present on the table at least exposes him to it as a real food that he may eat someday. Offering a bite each time we eat it lets him know, concretely, that it is also for him, not just for us.

7)  Dessert is not a weapon, it is our friend

When I was a kid, without fail, along with my sandwich and a piece of fruit, I always had cookies in my brown bag lunch at school. We also always had dessert after dinner, whether it was fruit or Hostess Ho Ho’s. I learned that because dessert was always a part of the meal, at some point I would get something fun like chocolate or cake. I also learned that it’s okay to have sweet treats at certain times, not all the time. My husband’s mom was a great baker so he has a certain expectation of sweet treats on a regular basis as well. Consequently, dessert is always an option in our house.

We never offer, or take away, dessert (or any other favorite food) depending on whether our son tries the new food or not because we also know this would ratchet up his anxiety, not reduce it. Since my son responds so well to verbal praise (heck, I respond well to verbal praise), we just give appropriate praise when he does try a new food, even if it’s just one bite. If he is not able to take a bite, we always say, “maybe next time” and nonchalantly go on with the meal. The meal stays calm, and dessert is just dessert then, not a big deal.

These are all the dinner-table specific techniques we learned on our Eating Adventures with our son. But the journey doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned a few more things that have also helped the eating process in our home. I will go beyond the dinner table in my next posts.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. more >>

Missed it? Read Growing a Foodie, Part 1

Go beyond the dinner table in Part 3 and Part 4