Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Spot of Ketchup, A Bewildered Dad

I should be used to it by now. But it still confounds me how seemingly little things can bother my son.

I know that sometimes sensory issues can cause him distress. But, there are times when I am baffled as to why something upsets him so much.

Take the other night, for instance. Kai was having a burger and fries for dinner. He sometimes likes to dip his fries in ketchup, so my wife squeezed a little on his plate, off to the side of the burger.

From his reaction, you might have thought that she put a live octopus on his plate. He screamed that he wanted the ketchup off his plate immediately.

There are many times when we adapt to Kai’s persnickety ways. We’ve let him have separate forks for his meat and his vegetables, just to name one example. But, on this night, it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t see any reason why he couldn’t have a little ketchup on his plate. After all, it wasn’t touching his other food. It was just there.

It would have far easier just to clean the ketchup off (trust me on this one). But, at that moment, I decided that he needed to eat his dinner with the ketchup on his plate. Perhaps I was influenced because of the way Kai screamed about it instead of asking nicely. Maybe it was because he had already angrily refused to try the new soup that was also served for dinner.

Regardless, I didn’t think it was a good idea to make accommodations for something that seemed to have no logic behind it. I thought that it was important to teach my son to be flexible, and that he shouldn’t let a silly thing like ketchup on his plate bother him so. I thought that he should understand that not everything in the world will be changed for him just because it bothers him.

It became quite an ordeal. He shouted and screamed and said many threatening words. Of course, he went into a timeout.

Eventually, he calmed down and ended up back at the dinner table. He tried some of the soup. And when he had a few bites of the hamburger, I gave him a clean plate with no ketchup on it.

Was I wrong to try to leave the ketchup on the plate, knowing how upset it made him? What is the balance between trying to teach a child with autism to be more flexible, and doing what it takes to keep him from getting too upset? Is there a good reason, sensory or otherwise, why having ketchup on the plate should make him so angry? Is there a better approach?

Bewildered and unsure, that is the state of this particular dad trying to raise a child with autism.

Pass the ketchup, please.


  1. We still run into similar problems once in a while. I, too, have reacted as you. I tell my son that the world doesn't care about how a person feels...just about what they do...about results.

    I also emphasize the importance of doing something because it is right...not to be swayed by emotions to do or not to do. I let him know that if he is wrong...that he must adapt and not others. He has become far less inflexible as a result. Now, I don't try to have him correct many things at once....I have him concentrate on one thing at a time...however, I do expect correct lasting results...even if the improvement is small.

  2. I've tried to explain these things to my son as well. Thus far, it is hard to tell how much of what I tell him he really understands. But it is good to hear that your son is less inflexible now. It gives me hope!


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