Why My Son Eats 3 Bowls of Oatmeal Before Breakfast Every Morning

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My 7-year-old son starts his day with at least three bowls of hearty, nutritious oatmeal before his portioned school breakfast and recommended lunch. The rest of his meals on a typical day are: two after-school snacks, more oatmeal, Special K cereal and yogurt and then dinner with the family.

One of my son’s favorite meals are Southern fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and broccoli. He’s only allowed that dinner once a month; the rest of the time, he has baked or grilled chicken. Other favorites are salmon, turkey spaghetti, my mother’s meatloaf, tilapia and of course, McDonald’s happy meals.

People are always surprised at the amount of food he can consume. At times, he eats more than his father, and at least the equivalent of his brothers — both in their twenties. At first glance he would appear greedy, especially if you also consider the speed at which he eats, usually rushing as if he’s about to lose his turn on the Wii. What 7-year-old devours this amount of food?

The best answer we’ve come up with is that it’s a side effect of the medication he takes for his triple diagnosis: autism, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention deficit disorder (ADHD). What his doctor later told me was a trifecta diagnosis. At 2 years, 9 months old, when he was first diagnosed with autism, I remember refusing all medication. I thought he was too young and that pills were too much. For one, I was afraid of the side effects and wondered what would be needed in the future if medication was the best option at that time. He was a baby, a toddler at best. A writer friend of mine said, “If he had diabetes, would you deny him insulin?”

Her simple question resonated with me. She had a son who suffered from mental illness. She’d advocated for him all his life so I trusted her opinion. While I wasn’t certain what category my son’s diagnosis fell under, I was assured by his developmental pediatrician that the medication were necessary and would help. I eventually agreed to the  prescription but hoped the ABA therapy would ultimately be what allowed him to be rid of the drugs. Every child reacts differently to medication and  lab work became routine. My son never gained weight, a very common concern and side effect of some of the medication, nor was he underweight. He was always right where he should be — a healthy, average kid.

As a child, I was thin, lean with long legs. I enjoyed a fast-burning metabolism and could eat just about anything. Now, I didn’t eat at the rate of my son, or 8-year-old daughter for that matter, nor did I take medication. I did, however, eat more than my parents, and was constantly asked where did I put my food. Perhaps, my son is just eating what his body requires and the medication kicks it up a notch.

The problematic component to this is that to most people who can’t take the time to know him see him as greedy, picky and demanding. It is not fathomable to the average adult that a child can consume this much food. They often have to witness it to believe it, and see that he really is hungry. And, on more than one occasion, to verify that we have not starved him for effect.

This is how oatmeal became the breakfast of choice. It usually fills you up and it is cost-effective. Yet, even with a low-cost start to the day, the money adds up in feeding the equivalent of a teenaged football player with a picky diet. My son would much prefer to have several bowls of Special K, his favorite cereal for the time being, with just enough milk to cover but not too much to make it where the cereal doesn’t crunch as he hums while he eats each bowl.

When there’s more time, like on weekends, he requests pancakes with bacon and eggs after at least two bowls of cereal or on rare occasions when we will have french toast. For the most part, he likes to eat the same thing every day until he decides he doesn’t like that thing anymore and moves onto the next item of choice. I try to get him to eat fresh fruit but that’s a real struggle. He will eat strawberries and grapes, but counts out how many he will bite and swallow. Sometimes we compromise on fruit in his yogurt. Luckily, with some coaching and modeling, my son’s food choices have become healthier. The two of us have come a long way with food.

I’m no expert on autism, oppositional defiant disorder or attention deficit disorder, but I am an expert on my son — he’s hungry. But this also doesn’t discount his from being a typical 7-year-old boy who on some days will be greedy simply because he wants something extra, his eyes are bigger than his stomach or just because, well, he’s a kid.

I work with him on quiet bites at the table knowing that everyone won’t appreciate his musical renderings of “Everything Is Awesome,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “There Goes My Baby.” And I remind him about proper etiquette while eating, except his lessons aren’t over at a specified age, as they were with my other children; these lessons can happen daily when your child processes information in an alternate way.

Parents know about patience. What I’m saying is not new. But when your child faces additional challenges, you are also prompted on the resilience inside of you. So the next time you see or hear of a child eating more than what you think is his/her fair share of a meal, don’t assume greed. Consider the possibility that they might just be hungry.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Why I Lie to My Daughter About My Body Image

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I’m standing in front of the steam covered bathroom mirror, naked, dripping wet and quite honestly ashamed of what’s looking back at me, when my tween daughter barges in. “I need a hair tie!” She couldn’t care less that I’m naked. Hell, she’s naked and comfortable with being in the buff.

Me, not so much.

She bounces in front of me, grabs a hair tie, blows me a kiss and is off. I’m left feeling perturbed. Not because she barged in — I’m a mom; I haven’t been alone in a bathroom for 15 years — but because I detest my naked body, and I don’t want her to know. Each morning it’s the same thing: me standing in front of the same mirror, trying to get clothes on as fast as I can so I don’t have to look at my naked body. Crazy, right? To me this is the norm; this is how I’ve lived my entire life, and I don’t tell anyone — especially not my daughter.

I’ve done everything in my power to raise a smart, independent daughter who has a healthy body image. But it hasn’t been easy, especially with my self-image being genuinely distorted. As far back as I can remember, no matter how skinny I was, it never seemed adequate; I’ve never looked fit enough. I’ve often thought I was a disgusting pig.

The obsession turned into anorexia and bulimia in my early twenties. It consumed me. Every minute of every day I spent thinking about food, how not to eat food and how to purge the food I did eat. These weren’t just random thoughts here and there; it was all-encompassing. Every second of every day.

The obsession takes away from your psyche, it twists your perception and lies to you. It controls you and everything you do. I don’t want my daughter to go through this. So I’ve done everything in my power to show her that loving her body is important — even if it means lying to her about how I feel about mine.

Look, I know I shouldn’t lie to my girl, that I should genuinely believe I’m beautiful, practice what-I-preach and all that bullsh*t. The issue isn’t that I don’t want to believe it — I do — I just don’t see it. I would do almost anything to be able to walk into a room without wondering how fat I must look or if people are judging me based on how I look. It’s not vanity; it’s pure anxiety that runs deeper than having a bad hair day. I’ve chosen to not leave the house on occasion because I can’t get past it.

It’s debilitating at times. I could be a size 2 and not feel comfortable enough to put on a bathing suit. I have been a size 2, and even then, I had a hard time with my body. Never good enough.

I don’t have an eating disorder any more. OK, technically, I will always have a disorder. But I no longer throw up what I eat, and I don’t starve myself. Still, the longterm effects of my eating disorder linger. My perception is not a reality; I’m not fat and know this with the utmost confidence, but I just can’t see it. So I lie to my daughter.

I will continue to lie to my daughter about how I feel about my body until I can genuinely say I love mine. I won’t jeopardize her self-confidence and the respect she has for herself — the respect I’ve helped build by not letting her see her mother have anxiety and panic attacks while looking at herself naked in the mirror.

I know I have a long way to go when it comes to my self-image. I have confidence I will get there eventually. But she doesn’t need to be dragged into it. I can’t possibly let her know I detest my body when I tell her every day not to worry about hers, that beauty is only skin deep. It’s difficult to raise a strong, independent girl as it is. More difficult is convincing myself, I am good enough.

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Masters Champion Learned His Greatest Lesson From His Little Sister

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Jordan Spieth, a professional golfer from Dallas, Texas, just won the 2015 PGA Masters tournament, one of golf’s most prestigious competitions, with a record-breaking score. But it didn’t take him long to turn the spotlight over to his younger sister, Ellie — a 14-year-old who has autism.

“I love having her around. She’s an incredible sister, my biggest supporter,” Spieth told CNN following his victory last weekend. “She is somebody who you can watch and then reflect on the big picture of life and understand that all these frustrations in a day, or in a round of golf, are really secondary.”

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Ellie and Jordan Spieth via Instagram

Spieth, 21, has always had a close relationship with his sister and says Ellie played a large part in shaping who he is today. “Being Ellie’s brother humbles me every day of my life,” he says on his website. Ellie is also the primary inspiration for the Jordan Spieth Charitable Fund, which works to find better schooling opportunities for children with special needs.

Though Ellie couldn’t make it to the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, she was able to see her brother play at the Houston Open in early April, Disability Scoop reported.

She was out there in Houston and after each round, she said, ‘Jordan did you win, did you win?’ Spieth said, according to the outlet. “I said ‘not yet, not yet’ and then ‘no.’ So I can tell her I won now.”

Check out the heartwarming video produced by the PGA Tour to learn more about Spieth:

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My Job Makes Me Cry Every Day

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I cry every day at work.

Sometimes I walk to the bathroom to do it. Sometimes I take a lap around our office building. Sometimes I just let it out at my desk.

I don’t sob or wail. It’s a silent cry — a head-feels-clogged, vision-slowly-blurs, cheeks-get-warm kind of cry.

It feels good.

I cried when I read The Mighty’s first original blog post, “My Daughter Was Alive for 23 Minutes, and Every Second Was Beautiful,” written by Michelle Nagel, who I’d only met via email. I cried because she found beauty in tragedy.

I cried when I watched 40 boys put on suits to stand up for their friend, Danny, a dapper 6-year-old bullied for his Frank Sinatra style and severe apraxia of speech. I cried when his mother later told me how kids now only call Danny out for being on TV.

I cried after an interview with a woman named Hope Cross, whose now husband, Steve Dezember, told her she didn’t have to stay with him when he was diagnosed with ALS early in their relationship. She stayed. I cried because she chose love over a seemingly easier life. And she didn’t have to think twice about it.

I cried when professional wrestler John Cena noticed a fan with Down syndrome standing ringside and made this happen:

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I cried because little moments like this matter.

In the last year I cried when a little girl noticed a boy with autism swimming without any friends and when a breast cancer survivor bared it all in a John Legend music video and when a friend of mine wrote openly about going to a mental health counseling center for the first time. I cried when a woman wrote a letter to a stranger on the other side of a hospital curtain and when a stranger helped a woman in a wheelchair deal with a broken elevator and when a lady in a bathroom let her kids say hello to a boy who looked different than them.

Happy tears, sad tears, I’ve-been-there tears, I’ve-never-thought-about-it-that-way tears, I-couldn’t-tell-you-why-I’m-crying tears. Even maybe-I’m-just-a-sap tears. I’ve cried them all. Hell, I’m choked up right now.

When we started The Mighty a year ago, we hoped it’d be a place where people could come to feel less alone and find beauty in their challenges. We pictured this website as an uplifting, inspirational hotbed of news stories. I didn’t know so many people would lend us their voices. To date we’ve had nearly 900 guest bloggers. These people let us share their stories. They let us read about their darkest moments and their highest points. They were honest and heartfelt and vulnerable. They’ve driven me to tears.

Our founder, Mike Porath, likes sports references, so I’ll make one here. In his famed ESPYs speech, the late Jimmy V said we should all do three things every day:

Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

So to our readers, to our contributors, to the people who volunteered for an interview in the last year while we’ve tried to grow this thing, I want to personally thank you. You’ve made me cry every day. Seven days a week. That’s something special.

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The Invitation That Made Me Rethink What ‘Special Needs’ Means

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When I was in elementary school my Camp Fire Girls group volunteered in the special needs classroom. I remember it taking me a few times to feel comfortable. I just didn’t know what we were supposed to do. Then I figured out you can just hang out with other kids even if they are in a wheelchair or still needed help with basic needs. I even learned some sign language. I remember this time fondly and my compassion for others grew.

Back then, “disability” or “special needs” were big words, but very small words at the same time. Those words meant significant problems. They were the major source of identity for those kids. It was a small, select group of people. That is what disability meant to me. It was different and something to be celebrated and embraced.

Then decades later, my daughter came.

I didn’t identify her as “disabled” or “special needs.” She was just “delayed.” We did therapy starting at age 1. She didn’t walk until she was 3, but she was still just “delayed.” At 3 she also only had a handful of words, but I still struggled to see us as part of the “special needs” community. We worked to find a diagnosis and a group to belong to, but none came. We just kept moving with multiple therapies a week, researching good occupational therapy (OT) toys for each gift-giving holiday, working for every small milestone. We sometimes felt overwhelmed, but I didn’t see us as being part of that community.

I didn’t think she was “disabled enough” to claim to be special needs. And I thought she would grow out of her delays. I thought they wouldn’t want me in their community because my daughter can look “normal” at first glance. Well, I guess she can now that we got rid of the walker. And if you don’t see her braces. And if you don’t notice she can’t talk or still needs help to get into a chair, or if you can ignore my constant swinging, singing, bouncing while we watch her big brother do martial arts…

Maybe she is part of the ‘disabled’ community. Maybe we are a ‘special needs family.’ But will they let us in?

Then her wonderful sunday school teacher approached me cautiously. She said that she volunteered at another church that ran a monthly “kid’s night out” type of event for special needs children and their siblings. She didn’t want to offend me, but thought we may be interested. “Us?” I thought. “Can we go to that?”

I felt nervous and wondered if we would fit in. My husband and I dropped the kids off the first month and we discussed feeling like impostors or taking advantage of this wonderful service that someone else needed more. But this community was lovely and welcoming and our older son made friends. The volunteers were great and loved my children and didn’t flinch when I told them all of my daughter’s differences. We made friends that I could talk to about where to get shoes for braces and possibilities for special schools.

We are now a part of that community.

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Turns out, the words “disability” and “special needs” are indeed big and small words. Just not in the way I once thought. The community is diverse and welcoming and big. And they are small words, as they are only part of an identity. My daughter is an adorable, nonverbal, loving and stubbornly amazing little sister. And we are a family that goes to church, out to eat, to swim lessons and to martial arts. And a family that loves to go to the movies and on walks and so much more.

And we are a “special needs family.”

I am thankful that “special needs” is a big and small part of our life. I am glad my definition of these things changed. These words can change your life. They changed mine for the better — twice.

The Mighty is asking the following: Can you describe the moment someone changed the way you think about a disability or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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I Wrote That Autism Isn’t a ‘Gift,’ and Comments Poured in. Here’s What Stuck With Me.

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As the feedback came in from my last post, “Please Don’t Tell Me Autism Is a Gift,” there was one critique with which I could not disagree. Some said that while they did not think autism was a gift, it had opened their eyes and made them appreciate the small things. It gave them perspective.

Am I saying I am thankful my son goes through everything he does so that I may come out the other side enlightened? No, absolutely not. I would not wish his challenges on anyone for any reason. I just wouldn’t. For me, autism is not a blessing or a curse — it just is what it is.

But just as I shared some of our struggles to give the outside world a peek into our daily lives, there is another aspect of this life I’d like to share to offer a more holistic view of our journey.

I would argue that we experience higher highs and lower lows as parents of children on the autism spectrum (or any children with special needs, for that matter). I can’t really describe to you the feeling when my 4 and a half-year-old used a spoon efficiently for the first time. Remember how excited you were when your 1-year-old first used a spoon? Now imagine how much more intense that excitement would be if you had waited four times that long to see it happen. Not only had you waited, but you and your child had worked tirelessly to make it happen. We worked with an occupational therapist to try to teach our son the coordination it takes to scoop up food and get it into his mouth without spilling it everywhere. We practiced at most meals even though he preferred finger foods. He often would not stabilize the bowl, and he would get frustrated when the bowl would push around on the table. As he raised the spoon to his mouth, he would always flip it and lose most of it. Then if any of it got on him, he would have a meltdown about something messy or wet touching his skin or even his clothes. I’m not going to lie — my heart soars every time I watch him eat independently, something I honestly took for granted with our oldest.

After so many hours of speech therapy and so much effort at home, listening to my son form a sentence is almost magical. There were so many times when he didn’t have the words. There have been so many heartbreaking instances when I would look into his eyes and feel like he was trapped inside himself. Hearing him convey his fears, express his needs, voice his feelings… in those moments, I couldn’t be more proud of something so many take for granted.

When we have a successful outing (even a 30-minute trip to the grocery store), I feel like I’ve just run and won a marathon. Do you know why I post about those good trips? Why I sing my son’s praises that he was able to handle the lights, the noise and the transitions? Because we had so many trips that ended with me in the car in tears. So many half-full shopping carts left in the aisles because I just couldn’t stand the judgmental stares anymore. So many trips have resulted in entire days of me trying to bring him down from the sensory overload. His tears, my tears, so many tears. So when we have an outing that doesn’t result in tears, you’re damn right I’m going to celebrate.

And the nights — I can’t really describe how hopeless I have felt during the bad nights. Not just nights when he was up and talking and I wanted to sleep. Not just the exhaustion. But some nights we had meltdowns, screaming, self injurious behaviors and even times when he would go after me. He wasn’t asleep, but he wasn’t awake, either — he was short circuiting and could not make sense of what his body was going through. During those nights that seemed to last forever, I have never felt more alone. Now, even though he never sleeps through the night, he only gets up once and usually goes back to sleep within an hour without incident. That might not sound like a good night to you, but I cannot even express how grateful I am for six hours of sleep and a night without him going through the trauma he used to.

Higher highs and lower lowers apply to our view of the future too. After receiving the diagnosis and the prognosis, I mourned for the life my son would not have. I don’t know if he will ever play a sport, live on his own, go to college, have a family or have a job. That is a heavy realization — one that continues to weigh on us everyday. But even during mourning there are glimpses of hope. With every little bit of progress with language, with each new skill mastered and with every academic achievement, my heart smiles and I am hopeful for the progress that lies ahead. Plus, having witnessed him so fearful, so miserable and so pained, simply seeing him happy on the good days is enough to bring me unmatched joy.

I know with a lot of hard work and resilience, the rest will fall into place, and we’ll be OK. Even if that OK looks different than I thought it would.

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This post originally appeared on From the Bowels of Motherhood.

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