Wednesday night is pasta night in my house, and it always has been for as far back as I can remember. Every Wednesday, my brother would pick out three pounds of pasta for my dad to cook.
For a family of five, this never used to last a whole week and we would often have to cook more pasta come the weekend. We always needed to have pasta in our fridge because my brother is somewhat of a fussy eater. In his early years, he solely ate pasta. Pasta with butter or pasta with red sauce. Picky was an understatement.
My brother’s name is Nicholas and he has autism. The relationship between autism and eating habits is largely under researched. However, according to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, “Though no reliable statistics are available on feeding and eating disorders of children on the autism spectrum, it does appear to be relatively common.”
It certainly is present in my brother’s case. He has a form of high-functioning autism called Aspergers syndrome. Although he can easily feed himself and prepare simple meals, he still only likes to eat one thing: pasta.
Both behavioral and external factors are responsible for the reactions some people with autism have to certain foods. Nicholas is very, very attached to Yugioh cards. It is common for people with Autism to be excessively interested in one topic, and Nicholas has definitely found his.
He obsessively spend hours upon hours talking Yugioh strategy with friends and playing in local card tournaments. This extreme interest often leads to lapses in judgement of time. Nicholas will spend hours on a Yugioh card game and completely forget to eat. His brain is so engaged that he actually possesses the inability to simultaneously interpret hunger.
“People with autism often are sensitive to different sensory inputs”, says Spoon writer Finley Cruger. Sensitivity is a major symptom of Nicholas’ autism. I have always been aware of this by the fact that he could never wear jeans or only use certain hygiene products. He has an hypersensitivity to not only objects, but to food as well. Extreme flavors, like spicy foods, do not agree with him. Things like the grill marks on a steak, he will refuse to eat. He even refers to soda as spicy because of the carbonation.
In addition, external factors like smell and appearance play a major role. Nicholas’ extreme food selectivity is quite evident. Whenever something new is cooking in the kitchen, he is the first to point it out simply because the smell is not familiar to him. He also has a difficult time dealing with harsh smells. A smell he isn’t fond of, like fish, will send him to running out of the room.
When Nick was younger, he could only eat his scrambled eggs with food dye in them because that is the way he liked them. He also refused to eat meat that wasn’t still pink inside and nearly anything green, largely because of the appearance.
The Indiana Resource Center for Autism also states that “some children with autism spectrum disorders will eat mostly foods that fit into only one of these four categories; sweet, sour, bitter or salty.” Nick would surely lean towards salty. He strays away from more extreme flavors and foods. Sticking to a bland food like pasta suddenly makes so much sense.
Over the years he has branched out and now eats approximately nine different things, although pasta is still his main food course. My family still has pasta (nearly) every day in the house. After all, it is all Nick will bring to school for lunch.
As different family members have started to move away and the house size dwindled down to three, my dad realized three pounds of pasta at once was a lot.
Not to say that Nicholas couldn’t easily eat it.
Pasta has special meaning to me. Not only because it is delicious in all shapes and sizes, but because I have seen first hand how much this one food has had an impact on Nick. His attachment to pasta so perfectly describes him as a person. I could never imagine my house without pasta in it.
The story of Nicholas and pasta is so much more than just a boy who loves food. It speaks to the significance food has in all of our lives. For people like Nicholas, certain foods go a long way to affect the quality of his life. I would do anything in the world to make my brother happy, which is why we have pasta everyday in my house.