The autistic person will display several reactions at the dining table.
(1) The autistic person will lower his or her head and refuse to eat.
(2) The autistic person will pick up a fork or a knife or a spoon and bang the table with it. (3) The autistic person will suddenly grab the dinnerware or the food of the person sitting next to him or her. The person who is usually sitting next to the autistic child would most likely be the mother. The usual reaction of the parent or parents is to reach over and try to “grab” whatever has been taken “back” while the other parent, usually the father or older sister, will shout and verbally castigate the autistic. All of these reactions by the parents and older sister will agitate the autistic child further, and the autistic child’s reaction becomes more and more “violent.” And the autistic child will refuse to eat.
The way I tried to remedy the situation was the following:
(1) The family invited me to have dinner with them every time I visited. The father was usually at work. The mother usually sat next to the autistic child. At the first dinner, the autistic child went through her usual behavior, grabbing dinnerware and the food that was on her mother’s plate. I told the mother not to “fight” with the autistic daughter to get the dinnerware or the food back. Instead, I showed the mother how to stop such behavior. I reached over and “tapped” the autistic’s hand whenever it “attacked” as if I were “slapping” it. The hand immediately retreated and the autistic child began to understand that that “attacking” behavior was “bad.”
(2) The autistic child is also keenly observant. By not paying too much attention to the autistic child, the reaction of the autistic child may show boredom and eventually correct behavior by imitating everyone else at the table and start to “eat”. If a parent tries to feed the autistic child, the child will fight back and push the food away or throw the food back at the feeder.
(3) It is important that the autistic child feels that he or she is being treated as an equal, not as an object of special attention. An indication of this is a smile on the face. Another indication that the autistic child is at ease and “likes” how she is being treated is a sudden outburst of affection. The autistic daughter surprised everyone at the dining table one evening when I was sitting next to her and she suddenly turned and gave me a kiss on the cheek. That was a very rare unsolicited reaction from an autistic child.