“Fussy With Food”

One comment I hear a lot in relation to people with autistic spectrum conditions is that they are “fussy eaters” or “fussy with food”. Certainly, a lot of people on all levels of the autistic spectrum do have limited diets but I have an issue with terming them as “fussy eaters”. Maybe it’s just my Aspergers causing me to take language literally but, to me, “fussy eater” implies that there is an element of choice. I know that some people think that limited diets in autism is all about control and I have known cases where this could be said but the majority of issues with food, from my experience and from discussions on autism forums about diets, are with texture rather than taste.

I know that almost everyone has a couple of foods that they cannot bear the texture of, not just people with autism. However, what differs is the ability to tolerate these textures. Somebody without any autistic spectrum condition may despise the texture of something but be able to control their reaction to it whereas I have literally had to run, gagging, to the nearest toilet before to spit the offending food out. Other people with autism will simply regurgitate the food back onto their plate. For me, I can love the taste of something but not be able to tolerate the texture. An example is kiwi fruit. I absolutely love the taste of kiwi but I have never been able to actually swallow any because the texture makes me heave. Other foods also have textures which I can’t tolerate. Pickle and chutney are two other major ones. Even just looking at lumpy pickle makes me feel sick! I can’t stand custard either because of school dinners I had as a child where the custard was lumpy!

Of course there are foods whose tastes I hate-these are mainly condiments such as balsamic vinegar and most types of salad dressing. Most of the foods I hate though have textures which I react strongly to. I cannot describe in enough detail just how nauseous these textures make me feel. I literally cannot bear the food being in my mouth. I know that a lot of people on the spectrum are the same. Next time you see someone who you know to be on the spectrum retching and gagging over their food, please don’t just assume that it’s behavioural and needs addressing through behavioural means. They are likely to be feeling genuinely ill at that moment and have no control over the way that their sensory processing system is reacting to that food. We are highly sensory people who make sense of the confusing world around us primarily through sensory means. This can be amazing when you come across a sensory experience that you adore but can be horrendously painful and literally unbearable when you come across something that you react badly to. This is applicable to all 5 senses but, obviously, in this post, is based mainly around texture/how something feels inside your mouth. Next time you view someone on the spectrum having what you see as a “tantrum”, please remember that they are likely to have been distressed by something interfering with their sensory processing system and please don’t judge them or their families harshly for it. 

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2 Responses to “Fussy With Food”

  1. Lou says:

    My “fussy eating” is the bane of my life! I have an extremely limited diet and people seem to think I’m just a “fussy eater” who’s being awkward but what they don’t understand is I would LOVE to have more than six foods to eat. I hate being so limited in my diet, it’s unhealthy, it’s embarrassing (especially in public) its boring, it makes me feel guilty when someone has cooked me something and I can’t eat it and it’s horrible that meal times cause such anxiety.

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