Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 584

3 13 J ANUARY 202 2 additional challenges. About one-third will have intellectual disability, a third have epilepsy and autistic people very commonly su er fromanxiety and depression. It’s these additional things that oftenmake life di cult, as well as being victimised or stigmatised, not the autism itself.” She prefers to think of autismas a constellation rather than a one-dimensional spectrum, and emphasises the importance of environmental fit in dictating howwell someone lives with the condition. At KensingtonQueensmill the environment is calm. The new building has been designed with sound dampening, so corridors feel quiet rather than echoey. There are ear defenders in each room for the children if needed. They can order their meals by handing over pictures, and sta members gently assist everywhere (a typical class has nine children and five adults). “We understand what they like and what motivates them, because that’s really important to keep their equilibrium,” explains Freddie. At a food group, occupational therapist LaurenWilliams is running an activity for children to play with food and becomemore familiar with it. One little boy, Ahmet, loves the smell of lemons and limes, so gently rolls themaround, bringing them to his mouth and nose. There is runny honey, squirty cream and sprinkles. The children engage and play, occasionally taking a break to rock on a little chair or cross the room. Lauren tells me about an 11-year-old boy called Elias. When hemoved to the school fromShepherd’s Bush Queensmill last September, he refused to eat lunch, probably due to increased anxiety and Covid-related disruption to his routine. Up to the age of nine he only ate liquid food, soups and yogurt. By spending one-on-one time with him and starting small, Lauren has got himeating school lunches again. “Before we put food on his plate I’d take sensory balls and roll themup and down his arms and cheeks, then did the same with the piece of food,” she says. “The sensory balls were part of our routine until last week. Now they are just there in a bag and he comes in the lunch hall and asks for what he wants, sometimes seconds.” Elias’ LEADING CHANGE The Queensmill Trusts’ Freddie Adu, Caroline Bulmer and Lauren Williams ( left); Chris Packham and Melanie Sykes (below) TASTY OFFERINGS Little gem and avocado salad, couscous salad, mackerel and new potato salad ( left); Elias weighs up his options (below left); chef Djalma Lucio Polli de Carvalho (below) FOOD AND AUTISM Many children are picky eaters, but it’s estimated that autistic children are äve times more likely to have problematic eating patterns. Professor Francesca Happé suggests a few tips. Keep a food diary Write down what your child is eating, when, and the circumstances. For instance eating with others may be overwhelming, or may encourage eating a wider range of foods. Social stories Write a simple story in text or using pictures for or with your child, explaining how our bodies need different types of food as fuel. Think visual Autistic children often take in information better visually than verbally, so having a photo menu or schedule of what they’ll eat may make meals less unpredictable and stressful. Make a collage of food pictures in different food groups. Consider texture If they reject foods because of the texture, will broccoli be accepted as a soup, or peas as a purée? Even if they put food in their mouth and spit it out, this could be a small step forward in exploring new foods. historic under-diagnosis of the latter, but also because developmental conditions typically a ect boys more. Although it’s not rare, autism is beset by misunderstanding. Thankfully, awareness is rising, especially recently, as public figures such as TV presenterMelanie Sykes, environmentalist Chris Packhamand reality star andmodel ChristineMcGuinness have talked openly about their diagnoses. Francesca Happé, professor of cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London, has specialised in autism for 30 years. She says: “Very often, autistic people have first food, other than hot chips, was mashed potato, which dining hall sta took o the top of ameat pie. “Lucio has such a variety of foods available all the time so it’s quite easy to support Elias,” adds Lauren. The relief for his mum, Rana Haddad, is clear to see. “The school phoned and said he doesn’t eat at lunch and I said that’s normal, but they said ‘no, we have to try’,” Rana recalls. “They tried hard and had success. Nowwhen he comes back from school he always says he’s full. They gaveme a plan and helped withme ideas.” What would Caroline Bulmer like people to understand about autism? “Themain thing is that it is a di erence,” she says. “It’s a di erence in the way the world is seen and experienced, and it’s not a wrong way, it’s just di erent to the neurotypical way. The world is set up for people who don’t have autism, not for those who have autism, and by making adjustments and accommodating for that, life would bemuch easier for them.” Photography: David Cotsworth ,Getty Images