When this mom feels torn about her parenting style, she asks Reddit:
We are a family of 4 (34F, 36M, 9M and 7F). My daughter (7F) is non-verbal autistic, we have been struggling with meal times and eating with her for as long as I can remember. She cannot cope with change and uncertainty and is prone to meltdowns when she gets overwhelmed. We instigated a number of strict rules and planning around meal times a year or 2 ago to help her cope which are working.
Essentially, all the family are involved in meal planning at the end of the week before and we have a set meal time with no food substitutions. Everyone attends meals but no one is expected to eat if they don’t want to. We spend time with visual charts preparing my daughter in advance of what is going to happen.
Since we have had this system in place our daughter is more freely trying new foods and both my children are more settled since these rules have been in place. It’s a lot more relaxing for everyone to eat without the meltdowns we had before.
The problems have come with when we have additional people for dinner. We do not make any allowances for changes to these rules around eating. The one time we did make an exception (a friend of my sons brought his own food as he did not like what was planned) resulted in a meltdown in my daughter and took us several weeks to get her back on track with her eating.
We now let people who are visiting know the rules and no child who’s parent is unhappy with them ever stays for food with us. If we know people are coming in advance we can take into account their food preferences but if it’s less than a weeks notice we cannot change the meal plan. We are working on helping her cope with these differences but it is a very slow process.
I have had numerous parents get upset with me for not accommodating their children in the way that they make accommodation for my son when he visits them, despite me saying I do not expect any changes to the way they do things at their house and my son can eat with us when he comes home later.
The most recent incident was having to send a child guest home mid meal as he got upset about not liking the food which triggered my daughter. I am not able to help her calm down at the same time as managing another child’s tantrum.
My husband tried to calm him down and explain but that didn't work (unfortunately probably exacerbated by my daughter's screaming) and left to drop him home with our apologies while I managed our daughters reaction. AITA for prioritising the needs of my autistic child over those of guests?
You should not have guests for dinner. The issue isn't prioritizing the needs of your autistic child over those of guests; it's that you are making no allowance or accommodation or room for the needs of your other children, and are sowing the seeds of lifetimes of resentment. YTA.
NTA! Im an SLP and I often work with kids who are significantly affected by developmental and neurocognitive differences like ASD. It honestly sounds like you’re doing an amazing job for your daughter. I wish all my students’ parents incorporated visual schedules in the household! Keep up the hard work.
It might feel like progress is slow, but you’re helping your daughter cultivate healthy coping skills and she will benefit so much from this in the long run. Your daughter will make progress over time and your son will be ok if he can’t have friends over for dinner. The assholes are the friends’ parents who clearly don’t understand what it’s like caring for a family member with different needs.
NTA. What this mom is doing is exactly what 'proper help' would tell her to do. She's implementing strategies that prevent meltdowns. Just because you think a stress ball might be helpful doesn't mean these parents haven't already tried less disruptive strategies that didn't work. I have an autistic kid, he's now 16 and high functioning but it took a boatload of work with experts to get there.
The routine and slow introduction of change is exactly how you teach a kid to control meltdowns. You always, always start with prevention and teaching them to self-advocate. At this stage, this kid is still dealing with meltdown as a form of advocation, which isn't ideal, so preventing meltdowns and slowing down the progression of getting to meltdowns is literally how you teach controlling meltdowns.
Not having other kids over for dinner is not a guarantee that the other children are being let-down or will even feel left out. It's totally reasonable to have a 'clean time' that is family only time and to let the other kiddos have interactions that don't interrupt this one activity. I agree that this Mom needs to plan activities around this time, but that doesn't mean it's forever. And it doesn't mean that the other kids are neglected.