When Geordie was in Kindergarten he contracted a particularly nasty bout of gastro towards the end of the year. It lasted for nearly a week. He was vomiting constantly and couldn’t keep anything down.
This would be a horrible experience for anyone, but for Geordie it was the beginning of the worst, and most dangerous, obsession he has ever developed:
an intense fear of eating (lest he become sick again)
Once he became well enough to be able to eat again — he couldn’t.
Geordie would cry and cry when we tried to get him to eat. When we did manage to get food into him, it was the tiniest amount. Often, he would be crying so much he couldn’t swallow the food anyway.
He was petrified; it quickly got to the point where when he knew dinner was ready, he would start to shake. He thought if he ate anything it would bring back the gastro. The only thing he was comfortable eating was apples. (I have no idea why apples were considered safe, but other fruit wasn’t.)
Gradually, I managed to get him to eat some other foods, but still only tiny amounts. He needed to see that I had prepared the foods and that I’d washed my hands and the benches were clean. Eating out in a restaurant became impossible. School canteen lunch orders were a no-no. Party food — don’t even think about it.
Geordie’s ribs started to poke out — front and back. His clothes hung off him. He was really solid as a baby and toddler (think chunky thighs and chubby cheeks), but now we could see bones.
To add to the food issue, he also became concerned about the personal hygiene of others. I remember a couple of occasions when he lost it because he saw someone (a total stranger) neglect to wash their hands after using the toilet. He wouldn’t use the computer keyboards at school in case the child before him hadn’t washed his/her hands.
Around about this time, we started watching (and recording) Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals TV programme. Geordie loved this programme, watching two episodes in particular over and over and over again. We bought the book, but Geordie wasn’t keen to cook anything out of it.
After a couple of months of food battles and watching Geordie’s weight continue to drop, we managed to get a referral to a paediatrician.
Sadly, it took a while to get through to her that Geordie couldn’t (not wouldn’t) eat. I had to keep a food diary detailing what he ate. Then, after looking at a week’s entries in the diary, she gave me a referral to see a nutritionist — so I could learn how to feed my son properly.
That’s when I lost it.
I ranted at her for around 20 minutes. I didn’t hold anything back. I told her that if she couldn’t get her head around autism and the mindset it carries, then I would need to find a paediatrician who did. How dare she!
She got the point.
She put Geordie on anti-anxiety medication and gave us a referral to a psychologist.
There is a certain stigma attached to having your 6-year-old on antidepressants and seeing a psych. Mother guilt is awful. I needn’t have worried. Geordie’s school, and our friends and family, were fantastic. They all just wanted to see him get well again.
We made an appointment with Sally (the psychologist). This was our turning point. Geordie clicked with her immediately — she was amazing!
At one point I mentioned the Jamie Oliver show to her and she grabbed that. I don’t know what she did, or how she did it, but after two sessions with her, Geordie asked if we could cook the Spinach and Feta Filo Pie from the book. Then we did the Curry Rogan Josh. I didn’t actually need to open the cook book because Geordie had watched these two episodes so often he knew the recipes by heart.
He ate both of these meals with gusto.
Then we started poring through the rest of the book, selecting meals to cook together. We bought more of Jamie’s books (we now own all of them). Geordie started putting on weight. Later that year, he was the only student in his Kitchen Garden class at school to know what turmeric was.
I know there were many factors at play in Geordie’s gradual recovery, but I give credit to Jamie Oliver for a huge part of it.
I’ve become a bit of a fan actually. In his Naked Chef days, I thought Jamie was a bit of a tool. Now though … well, don’t pass any negative comments about him around me … just saying.
From start to recovery, this obsession lasted nearly 9 months. Looking back at his Year 1 photo, it is shocking to see just how skinny and unwell Geordie looked. It is heartbreaking.
Some parts of the obsession are still there: Geordie will not order food from the canteen; he is reluctant to eat party food unless he knows who has prepared it; and in Year 4 he developed emetophobia (the fear of vomiting or of someone else vomiting). But, while he is still quite skinny, he eats normally and we can now go and eat out at any restaurant (hooray).
Obsessions are not something we, as parents, can control. We cannot stop them from happening. The only thing we can do is be aware of them, and alert to when we need to seek outside assistance.
Thank you Sally. And thank you Jamie Oliver. Together I believe you may just have saved Geordie’s life.