Family Dining – Autism Style

Written by Kimberly Green
Member of Messy Marriage Team 

Today’s post is a snapshot in the life of an imperfect family whose challenges include raising a child with autism. It is a bit longer than our usual posts in an effort to adequately paint the complex feelings of a day in the life.

My fantasies of dinnertime include my family sitting together at a mouthwatering, picture-perfect meal, with lot’s of, “Looks delicious, Mom  and “Well done, Honey!s

We corporately offer up sincere thanks to our Provider. My green beans are so tasty, the children beg for two more helpings.

We discuss our day, uninterrupted by the television or telephone—maybe laugh at a flatulence joke or two. Share wisdom with our offspring by taking advantage of teachable moments. In this fantasy, my husband and I look at one another and share a smile that says, “We are truly blessed.”

I am, of coarse, wearing pearls, an Ann Taylor sweater, and have flawless hair and makeup.

In the real world, I am wearing sweats with my hair tossed up in a clip—not a trace of makeup remains. Whatever was on the stove boils over and scorches as I am on the phone with my autistic son’s teacher regarding an incident at school today. I’ve unscrewed the top of the rosemary, instead of flipping the cap—accidentally dumping the whole thing into the mashed potatoes.
I don’t know it yet, but despite its lovely golden exterior, the middle of the chicken is underdone. There’s also the second meal I have to make for my son who has very limited food tolerances. I make a separate side dish for my daughter as well, because if her brother doesn’t have to eat green beans why does she?
The fact that dinner is ready is met with the reality that my husband is running late from work. So I decide just to wait and zap it all in the microwave when he gets home. When he does arrive, we sit together while my daughter, bless her, makes a point to say, “It smells really good, Mom.”

I know it smells horrid, but I appreciate the gesture just the same.

On the way downstairs, our son tells me, “This better be a good dinner or I’ll be mad,” which sparks an argument with his father about being disrespectful and how he can make his own dinner in the future.

I know this is an empty threat because he would gladly make his own dinner which would consist of popcorn and tootsie rolls.

We aren’t seated at the table 30 seconds before he sees the chicken, says, “EEEW!” and begins bargaining how many bites he has to eat before he can be done. The tension is as thick as the smell of the burnt stovetop. I get him his plate with plain spaghetti and bread instead, and am now told, “Oh, good job, Mom. This is a good dinner. You are a genius.” He takes his plate and chooses to sit at the counter alone instead of with us at the table.
“Did you do something different to the potatoes?” which is my daughter’s politically correct way of telling me she doesn’t like them. I just tell her I “added some herbs” and totally downplay the fact that I dumped a whole Spice Island’s bottle of rosemary on them.
My husband takes a few bites of his piece of chicken and notices how pink it is. “Um, do you think this is safe to eat?”
I snap. “If you don’t like it, then don’t eat it.”
He responds, “I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, I really just wanted to know.” He takes his plate to the sink and throws the salmonella with golden skin into the garbage and starts doing the dishes.
For some reason, I always get resentful when my husband starts to do housework. I feel threatened and assume it’s a passive-aggressive way of telling me I’m inadequate. When truthfully, he probably feels bad about the incident and wants to simply try to be helpful.
I lob a pitiful, “I’m sorry.” He, a curt, “Thank you.”
My daughter is sitting staring at her plate uncomfortable with the conflict and tension. She has wolfed down her chicken, leaving the bitter potatoes. “May I please be excused?” I nod. She flees.

I hope the chicken doesn’t make her sick.

From the counter I hear, “Can I have another bread?”
“Did you eat your noodles?”
“I would like more bread.”
Seeing the noodles still remain, I tell him he has to finish them first.
My son growls and shakes his fist at me.
Again, another round of how that’s rude, and we don’t treat people like that, concluding with, “Are you ready to go to bed?” to which he answers, “It isn’t bedtime … it’s dinnertime.”
Bringing us back to the reality that many of his behaviors are rote or imitated, and the concept that asking him if he’s ready to go to bed is really our way of saying, “If you continue this behavior, we will send you to bed”—which escapes him completely.
My husband and I are miserable because we keep avoiding telling one another how we feel, yet we’re scolding our son for saying exactly what he thinks and means to say.
The only sounds are of the clinking dishes and water running in the sink while our son finishes his noodles and the extra piece of bread we’ve given him. He takes his plate to the sink and after placing it in the dishwasher turns to his dad and raises his arms as a gesturing to be picked up. My husband obliges.

As they hug, the little boy says to the man, “I can’t say or do anything to make anyone happy today.” The man commiserates, “Neither can I, Son.”

I’m thinking it all seems like such a mess and so different from what I had pictured.
In this mess, my husband and I look at one another and share a watery smile that says, “We are, after all, truly blessed.”

10 responses to “Family Dining – Autism Style”

  1. I would never joke about something as serious as flatulence.


  2. No, I didn’t think so, Tony. 😉


  3. Awesome post!!!


  4. Beth – in all seriousness… the blessings in that situation came completely out of the blue. First off – my daughter made several really good choices… she said the right thing several times, and didn’t say anything several other times (also the right choice!). Secondly… my son held his arms up to me, hugged me, and… told me how he felt. You have NO idea what a big deal that is coming from him. It is not often that he clearly articulates his feelings in that manner


  5. Thanks Heather


  6. Thanks for letting me share in a few minutes of your life and realizing how great blessings come from small and frustrating times.


  7. Thanks for stopping by, Marisa!


  8. I completely get that. I think Kimberly did an excellent job of communicating all those nuances that outsiders might miss. I also think that often the very hard things in life reveal the beauty of life like no other situation can. I’m so glad that you and Kimberly see those blessings in your two beautiful kids and have inspired us to see them as well!


  9. Brandy Mutschler Avatar
    Brandy Mutschler

    Kim,Even though your family isn’t Leave it to Beaver-perfect like we all hope and wish for… (I hope and wish when I have kids it will be like that too), thank you for sharing the real story of what family is like. I love your family and your kids 🙂 You are all really blessed to have each other, and I feel blessed to know you guys. Just wanted to let you know.


  10. Thank you Brandy! We think you are pretty cool too! (And Chase REALLY thinks Neil is VERY cool)


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