When George was younger one of the major difficulties we had was keeping food in the house. George literally cooked, ate or threw away anything food-related he found.
This led to some very imaginative hiding places for non-perishable foods, furniture with secret compartments, a sofa and a bed with hidden internal storage areas. Random sports bags hanging up around the house stuffed with pasta. It was strange but worked.
For perishable things life was more difficult, we had to buy stuff as we needed it. It was not practical and, obviously, more expensive but we didn’t have a choice.
“Put a lock on the fridge!”
It’s an understandable suggestion, and many people without children with special needs don’t fully grasp the problems so would make these, obvious, suggestions.
So what would happen if we locked the fridge?
- George would try to open it. He would fail.
- George would take us to the fridge and gesture for us to open it, we would refuse. Attempt to distract.
- George would start to get angry
- George would attempt to use tools (toys etc.) to attack the lock
- George would become very angry
- George would pull and hit it
- All attempts at distraction would fail, George will now be single-mindedly obsessed with opening the fridge.
- George would become angrier and hit and scratch himself
- The scratches would cut the skin, he doesn’t care
- Finally, George would become aggressive towards others
So at what point do you relent and open the fridge? How much self-harm do watch before helping him? It’s not black and white, it’s not like parenting neurotypical children, he won’t just stop when he realises you won’t give in. The obsessive behaviour of autism is extremely difficult to deal with and near impossible to negotiate. So we hid food and shopped day-to-day.
An example to illustrate the obsessive nature of autism: A few years ago George was in our bedroom and, for no logical reason, decided he wanted to throw the Sky TV box down the stairs. Obviously, we tried to stop him but it became something he ‘needed’ to do. I managed to get him downstairs and carried him to the car. We went out for the day. We went to the forest for a long walk. We had lunch together. We went to the beach to splash in the sea as the sunset. It was a really fun day out. George was calm, relaxed and happy when we got home. He walked upstairs, grabbed the Sky box and tossed it down the stairs. Then, as though nothing happened, picked up his iPad and sat on the sofa.
The Giant Shelf and the Magic Blanket
So what else worked and where did George think the food came from?
The Giant Shelf
After a couple of years, we gave in and tried a chest freezer. It was delivered and filled while George was in school and then covered with a tablecloth and decorated with a ‘nature table’.
This shockingly worked for the best part of two years before his curiosity led him to investigate further. I’m really not sure why but he just accepted it was a massive shelf.
Fortunately, his finding of it coincided with him outgrowing his need to cook everything so it was not a complete disaster.
The Magic Blanket
The magic blanket is one of my favourite things. It’s just a blanket George hides under while we magic up the ingredients lunch. It’s a distraction while we grab something out of a hiding place.
It works well, for the most part, the only difficulty is when he asks for something we don’t have and after we say no he goes and gets the magic blanket and says “ma” (magic blanket). That’s a little heartbreaking.
Where are we now?
As of now (age 11), George is happy to have most foods in the house. The main exception to this is baking supplies, drinks and milk. For some reason, all liquids must still be drunk or poured away. And he loves baking so much that any flour is turned into a cake as soon as it’s found, day or night.