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  • Kirk

The very hungry teenager

I left the bathroom Monday morning and went to look for Nolan. I didn’t have to look far.

There he was, standing in front of me between the living room and dining area with a loaf of bread, a bottle of Cindy’s Skinnygirl Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing, and a pitiful look in his eyes that would make Oliver Twist proud (“Please, father – I want some more”). This is the boy who already had consumed a granola bar, lunch meat, and 11½ Munchkins and a strawberry coolatta from Dunkin’ Donuts before 10 a.m. This is the boy who, about a half-hour after consuming eight pieces of bread dipped in salad dressing, asked for a can of soup, and then another maybe an hour after finishing the first one.

Monday was the first day of Christmas vacation for Nolan, and the final food consumption tally is as follows: three cans of soup, one helping of Sunday’s leftover hot dish, one helping of lunch meat, one helping of bread with salad dressing, one helping of bread with ketchup, Triscuits with and without ketchup, the donuts, olives, peppers, and the granola bar. Forget about being a member of the Clean Plate Club – I think Nolan might have eaten the plate today, too.

I’m sure some of you are quite familiar with ravenous teenagers – or the Humanous Voraciousappetitus species, if you will. Cindy once worked with a woman whose teenage son consumed most of a loaf of bread every other day, including three or four sandwiches between every meal. Nolan is 14 years old, and he’s not done growing. We expect him to be hungry – a lot. Between the two of us, we expect to pick up groceries somewhere – be it a supermarket or a convenience store – an average of three to four times a week.

We will let him eat just about anything if he shows an interest in it. Hot dogs? That’s as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet (I’m dating myself with that reference). Salad? Be ready to spend some time in the bathroom, but sure! Ranch dressing? We’d really prefer that you not drink it out of the bottle – yes, he actually did that this past weekend – but I guess a little bit is OK every now and again. Sometimes I’m impressed by how much he can put away. But sometimes it scares me a little, too.

Sure, it’s nice to have a son who enjoys his meals. Children and young adults on the Autism spectrum tend to be picky eaters. I found a story online from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism that referred to a 2006 study noting that between 46 to 89 percent of children with Autism have some level of food selectivity. We know a family whose son is Nolan’s age, has Autism, and once had – maybe still has – an aversion to hamburger.

To his credit, Nolan has eaten pretty well since he was a baby. He really does enjoy fruits and vegetables. He eats regularly from four of the five basic food groups, with Dairy being the lone exception because it wreaks havoc on his belly. We put him on a gluten-free diet shortly after he was diagnosed with Autism in 2008 because at the time we believed doing so could help with his behaviors. To be honest, it made very little difference. We took him off it a couple of years ago – partially due to the high cost of gluten-free foods, partially out of convenience. Doing so opened up more choices for meals. Nolan’s teacher suggested last year that he eat school lunches instead of us packing lunches for him every day, and for the most part he’s loved them. Forget what you remember about your hot lunches at school – these kids get some tasty meals. You know, I kind of want to try the spaghetti.

I like the fact Nolan is trying foods I never expected him to eat five years ago. But I also wonder how that is affecting him.

Nolan has been taking the drug Risperidone for 10 years. It’s been a godsend in that it has helped him sleep better than he did when he was younger, and it also has helped him to be a little less aggressive. It also has some negative side effects, increased hunger being one of them. Nolan is a pretty active kid, but he’s still in something like the 99.5 percentile in weight for someone his age. Extra weight can and often does lead to health problems. The kid always will have enough challenges to deal with as long as he walks this earth. I don’t want to add high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease to the mix.

Cindy and I also struggle with getting Nolan to eat the same meals we do. The daily sheet that goes back and forth between school and home always asks what Nolan ate for dinner. Our answers have become so predictable – soup, lunch meat, bread with ketchup – that Nolan’s teacher probably damn near fainted the day she read he’d actually tried some of the chicken we’d eaten the night before.

We do watch Nolan very carefully, and I have to remind myself that he also is getting taller – he’s almost eye-to-eye with me now. Cindy told me she thinks Nolan could be experiencing a growth spurt, and that might be the case. I just noticed we’re getting low on bread.

Maybe I’d better buy a couple more loafs this morning, just to be safe.

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