With Thanksgiving coming later this month, I wanted to focus on a couple of different aspects of the person with Asperger’s Syndrome. First of all, Autistic people need routines. So when holidays come, so can meltdowns, depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other issues. Think about it: The food served on holidays is often different. There may be different dinnerware used on holidays, and it may be served in a different room at a different table. The house may be decorated differently. There may be household guests that are not usually there, and the meal may be at a different time than normal. Even the smells in the house are different. Besides that, school and many workplaces are closed for holidays so the daily routine is different. And even television lineups change to accommodate holiday specials.
What you may not realize is that there is a high rate of suicide among people with Asperger’s Syndrome. One such study finds that there’s a 66% rate of suicidal thoughts among people with Asperger’s Syndrome as opposed to only 17% of the general population and 59% of people with other varied psychoses. Much of this is because of their feelings of inability to fit in socially and their inability to adapt to change which often leads to depression.
So, if you know someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, please be patient with them over the holiday season. Ask them how you can help them feel more comfortable. And if they’re children, try to explain ahead of time what types of changes will be taking place and try to ease them into the changes slowly rather than springing them all on them at once. (If the Asperger’s child prefers a peanut butter sandwich, then please give it to them and don’t force them to eat turkey. And also, please warn your guests ahead of time not to “pick on” the child for not eating what everyone else does. I can tell you from personal experience, that only leads to a LOT more anxiety for that child which they will carry for a lifetime.)
The other aspect of Autism I want to focus on this Thanksgiving month is the food. It is a fact that more than 30% of people with autism also have some kind of stomach or intestinal problem compared with fewer than 10% of people who are not autistic. People with autism are more susceptible to allergies and food sensitivities than the average person which is likely due to their impaired immune system. Food sensitivities are often considered to be allergies due to the fact that in autism, one’s immune system is overly reactive to these substances.
So, you may know a person with Asperger’s or some other form of Autism, and you may think they are just being finicky. But that is not necessarily the case. Oftentimes, it is not the taste but rather the texture of the food that’s the problem. For example, I love tomato products, such as salsa, marinara sauce, and ketchup. But I can’t stand to eat an actual tomato, either raw or cooked.
Or the way the food makes the person feel is a problem. They might not even realize this is because they’re sensitive to a particular food as a possible allergen. For example, I like raw spinach in salads or dips. But it does not like me. As soon as I eat a little, the inside of my mouth gets itchy, and my chest breaks out in hives. As soon as I eat a lot, I experience projectile vomiting.
And sometimes, it’s the actual presentation of the food that’s the problem. For example, when I make a sandwich, I prefer it cut in triangles than rectangles. I’ll deal with it either way just because I don’t want to embarrass myself by making a fuss. But when I was a kid, I’d cry and refuse to eat it, though I didn’t understand why. It just “wasn’t right.” If it had the crusts on, I wouldn’t eat it. As an adult, I prefer to drink out of a clear plastic tumbler than a glass. (But I will not drink out of a white plastic cup such as those that are sent home as kids’ cups in restaurants, and I don’t ever like to drink out of Styrofoam because it tastes funny.) Why? The glass gets condensation on the sides, and the tumbler doesn’t. If I’m drinking soda in a kids’ cup, it goes flat faster, and it also has a small lip on the rim which feels weird in my mouth. I don’t like ice in my drink, so when I have a drink in a glass, it gets warm sooner than in the smaller tumbler. When I have guests for dinner, I will drink out of a glass so that they don’t ask a bunch of nosy questions, but as soon as they leave, I go back to my tumbler.
Furthermore, garnish might also be the problem. When I was a kid, if I was served a bun with sesame seeds, I wouldn’t eat it. Now, I don’t eat meat, so I don’t really ever get anything with a sesame seed bun, but if I did, I’d discreetly pick off the top of the bun before I’d even think about eating it. If I’m at a Tex-Mex restaurant and order a side of sour cream and they bring it on a bed of chopped lettuce, I have to send it back. I can’t stand the smell of lettuce, and that’s all I’ll taste if I keep it. It might be pretty, but it’s gross.
Another thing that inevitably happens to me at any given meal, holidays included, is that I get the “gross thing” in my food. I know that certain people will say that’s because I’m a jinx which may be true in a lot of other aspects of my life, but in this case, I believe it’s because my Autism causes hypersensitivity to everything. So I believe that everyone actually has an equal shot at getting “gross things” in their food, but other people just don’t notice. For example, with the Thanksgiving green bean casserole, nearly every time, I’m the person that gets the bean stalk (which is what I call it when I get a stem). With the corn pudding, I’m the person that gets the kernel that was cut too close to the cob and has the hard part attached. With the cheesy potato casserole, I’m the one that gets the dark spot on a bite of potato. With the filling (which is basically a vegetarian stuffing), I’m the one that gets a string left on a piece of celery. So, no, I don’t really believe I am so unfortunate that I’m the only person among a dozen that gets bad parts. But I do think that other people’s palates are not as sensitive, so they chew and swallow the offending bit of food without realizing anything is amiss. Plus if they do happen to realize that they got a bad part, they likely just spit it into their napkin and forget about it as they keep going, whereas it usually makes me gag and run to the restroom to get sick, then vividly remember it forever.
So, to conclude, if you plan on spending the holidays with anyone with Asperger’s or any other form of Autism, please watch them carefully, and if they look stressed for no apparent reason, just try to remember that the holidays can be very stressful to them and they might not even be able to understand, much less explain why.
I’ll be back the first Sunday of next month with More on Autism, and I’ll be back tomorrow with my regularly scheduled post. Thanks for visiting.