Personal History

How TV Helps My Autistic Kids Eat Dinner — My Two Tables

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Here's how I pictured family dinner with my husband and three kids: Everyone is at the table, enjoying steak and fries while taking turns talking about the highlights from their day.

In reality, dinner is more of a workout than a time to relax over conversation. In reality, my husband and I have spent more dinners than I can count chasing our two autistic kids (my son and younger daughter), sensory seekers who like to launch themselves out of their seats at every opportunity. In reality, this ideal image doesn't fit our family dynamic at all.

But I'm learning that that's okay — with a little help from a TV and a therapist or two.

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Sometimes My Husband and I Eat Dinner in Silence — And That’s Okay — Table Talk

When my husband and I got married four years ago, a friend of mine who had already celebrated several wedding anniversaries gave me one piece of unsolicited advice: Sometimes you're going to eat dinner in silence — and you both should be okay with that.

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How I Organized My Kitchen Without a Single Drawer — Organizing Tips from Kitchn

When you fall in love with a new home, every challenge is merely an opportunity — a chance to swoon over clever ideas you find on Pinterest or Etsy, or a reason to load up your Amazon shopping cart in the wee hours. We humans are really good at convincing ourselves that possible drawbacks to something we really, really want are not drawbacks at all. My college psychology professors might have called this the avoidance of cognitive dissonance; I call it required creativity.

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How Living in a City Ruins Dinner Parties (and How I’m Fighting Back) — A New Way to Gather

Some of my post-college friends have been in my life for more than 10 years. And yet, I have never seen where many of them live. In any normal town, this would be super strange. But in New York City, it feels totally acceptable.

I assume my friends live somewhere, right? They must have a place they call home. With a kitchen (or at least some of the makings of a kitchen, this is NYC we're talking about here). And a bed? Or a couch? Who knows? Not me — because, again, I've never been over.

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How a Plate Solved Mealtime Woes for a Mom and Her Autistic Son — Dinner with Kids

Mealtime used to come with massive amounts of stress and anxiety for Jen Anderson, of Kirkland, Washington. "I dreaded meals to the point where I felt sick to my stomach in anticipation," she says. Her son Levi was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 1/2 years old, and getting him to eat was nearly impossible. "Levi couldn't stay seated for more than 10 seconds at a time," she says. "He didn't recognize the feeling of hunger. And only ate foods that were starchy and unhealthy." Some days, he'd barely eat anything at all.

Of course, Jen and her husband tried everything. They spent thousands of dollars on a board-certified behavioral analyst who would make house calls to work with Levi. "Even she couldn't get him to eat." They'd make a blanket fort under the table, give him toothpicks instead of a fork, let him eat in front of the television, and anything else they could think of.

It was a painful situation for many reasons. For starters, they worried their son wasn't getting the nutrients he needed. They also got disapproving comments and looks from people (including friends and family!). They couldn't go out to eat as a family and Jen even started avoiding other moms and play dates. Jen was at the end of her rope and didn't know what to do.

But then, nearly two years ago when Levi was 5 1/2, she found something that changed their lives: a plate.

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Why Grilling Outdoors Makes Me Feel Like a Kid in Morocco Again — Best of Summer

There's something festive, transfixing, and special about cooking around an open fire. It's a ritual as old as humanity that transcends time and place, and immediately bridges everything I miss and love from my past with everything wonderful about my present. When we fire up our grill on our small stone patio in Brooklyn this summer, surrounded by high wooden fences and climbing ivy, I'm instantly transported back to my happy place: My perfectly spiced childhood in North Africa, the freedom and fun of that distant time, and the mouthwatering grilled food that so often fueled my days and nights.

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