Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Dealing with Food Wrapper Mess kids on the Autism Spectrum

You've been hounding your kid for a week to clean up his room and you finally go in because you need to pick up his washing or he'll have nothing to wear to school next week.

You're shocked to find a little pile of candy wrappers, often crawling with ants. The carpet is a mess and the bin is only an arm's length away. 

Yes, you've got a food wrapper mess kid.

I'm not sure if this is a  Asperger’s thing or just a normal teenager thing but I suspect that the problem is a little worse with kids on the spectrum.

Junk Food is Harmful. Right?

There's no denying that junk food isn't a healthy option or that in large quantities it will create obesity issues. It's important to try to impose some limits on your children’s eating habits.

What you don't want to do is get so hung up on the idea of cutting out sugar that you drive these behaviours underground.  After all, your kids will eventually be in a position where they have their own money and the opportunity to make choices when you're not present.

You need them to be able to self-manage by themselves. Banning food simply encourages your kids to hide it.

These kids are more than just Lazy

It's certainly true that the kids of today are considerably less active than the kids in the previous generation.  It's not a sudden change, it's something that has been happening for several generations now as technology changes the way that we live.

It's easy to see that laziness as the reason that kids won't pick up after themselves but it doesn't really explain why there are piles of trash so close to rubbish bins.

I think that a lot of the problems are related to attention span. I don't think that the kids build these little piles of rubbish with the intention of not putting it in the bin (except where they toss it under or behind furniture).

Most of the time, I think that the rubbish is stored neatly with the intention to bin it when they get up but then the activities of the present take over.

For example, they might be watching a movie, playing a video game, reading a book, listening to music or engaged in some other activity, when they're called down to dinner, off to school or into bed.

In the ensuing pandemonium, their little piles of rubbish are forgotten. I think this is more common with kids on the Spectrum simply because they're more focused and harder to interrupt.

What you can do about it?

For the most part, you're most likely already doing all the right things;

Don’t ban foods outright. Allow your kids to taste them but try to encourage them to make good choices.

Allow a bit of Junk (within reason)

Don't stress out too much about junk foods.  Kids have very fast metabolisms and while they're still growing, the food will get burned off quickly. Occasional junk foods are important too as they can reinforce much needed celebrations or become great rewards for effort.

Kids usually put on a little weight before a growth spurt but if you're really worried, talk to a doctor.  For the most part you've got until they're about 18 before they need to seriously start watching their weight so unless your child is showing signs of struggling or your physician considers it an issue, the occasional binge is okay.

Fill kids up with Good food and Water

Make sure that your kids have regular meals (or mealtimes). With older kids, it's okay to have “choose your own adventure dinners" once or twice per week. In fact, this teaches them to cook (or at least defrost) and it gives you clear insights into their favourite foods.

When you do cook, make it clear that you expect them to eat it all. Obviously exercise sensible portion control and don’t force them to eat more than they should. Make sure that your kids are drinking plenty of water too. 

The aim here is to ensure that they don't “fill up on sweets" before dinner and that they don't have a much of an appetite after dinner.

Responsible Kids are Tidier Kids

Make your kids responsible for their own messes. Don't clean up their little piles of rubbish. Tell them to do it -- and watch them do it. Make something that they like, such as dessert, computer time or just free-time dependant on completion of the task.

Get into the habit of including the messes in your routines. For example, instead of saying “Come down and have your dinner” try to say “put your mess in the bin and then come down for dinner”. With a bit of luck you get them to start cleaning up automatically.