Who Knew?


Photo by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli

This column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at AutismAfter16.com.

“Looks like our McDonalds is getting a new sign,” I remarked to Pat as we passed the restaurant where we’ve lunched most Tuesdays for the last three years.

I hadn’t had any calls from the school to report aggression or self-injurious behaviors that week—always a plus. The pollen count was down and the weather was mild—both factors we have learned that can influence her moods.

I hope I had a “Happy Madison” in store for this week’s visit.

I waited in the van while Pat went into the school. A few years ago, Madison moved from a ten-month residential program to a twelve-month offering that addressed her educational regressions. At the new school, our weekly lunch dates worked well, giving her family time while keeping her progressing educationally in a consistent structured environment.

Madison’s smile said it all as she skipped through the front door with her one-on-one, Ms. L.

“She’s happy today, “Ms. L reported. We buckled up and enjoyed Madison’s serenade as we returned to our lunch spot.
Pat slowed down as we neared the restaurant’s entrance. “Oh, my,” she exclaimed. “It’s closed!”

There was a collective cringe in the car. Pat, Ms. L., and I knew such a major change in Madison’s routine could be disastrous. Her favorite phrase, “Schedule, please,” was about to be radically altered.

Madison, still singing, seemed oblivious. I spied a Taco Bell/ Kentucky Fried Chicken combo restaurant across the street.

“She’s had some kind of chicken nuggets from there, right?” I asked Pat.

“Yes,” she replied. “We drove through on the way to camp last year. She loved them.”

“Madison, let’s go to Taco Bell,” I improvised. “Get nuggets.”

She looked at me and grinned as if a fairy had whispered something in her ear, a look I love and wish I knew how to produce on that now angelic face.

“Nuggets at Taco Bell, please,” she replied as her grin grew wider.

Close enough, I thought, realizing we would have to order from both restaurants for one meal.

“Okay, ladies,” I muttered to my crew. “Prepare for an adventure!”

We exited the van, ordered, and sat down to a combo lunch of KFC’s nuggets, fries, and taco salads.

Madison picked at her nuggets and kept eyeing Ms. L’s taco salad.

In her younger days, Madison would only eat brown food—graham crackers, peanut butter, fig newtons, nuggets, nutri-grain bars, and cereals. She eventually expanded her diet to include other meats and fruits, but still was not much of a veggie eater and was quite decisive in her preferences. She would politely try a new food when asked, but then promptly spit it out or even gag if she didn’t like it.

“Take a bite of nugget, Madison,” I prompted her. She took the smallest bite possible and then suddenly reached across the table and broke off a piece of Ms. L’s taco salad shell.

“Well, it’s brown,” Pat remarked, thinking that Madison was after the crispy shell.

Then Madison reached for the lettuce. Ms. L took a fork and layered lettuce, cheese, and meat on it. Unbelievably, Madison took the fork and ate the whole bite.

Soon, she was stabbing away with her own fork at Ms. L’s salad, stunning the three of us as we watched this young lady, so controlled and comforted by structured routines, try something new.

We wondered where she learned to like taco salads.

Then we had the most startling thought of all—maybe she hadn’t learned it. Maybe she challenged herself to learn something new, a thought so foreign to us, especially given her age. It was a soul-shocking, almost spiritual experience.

Madison enjoyed trying something new—with no prompts or rewards.

Now our Tuesdays have a new routine.

“Madison, do you want Taco Bell or McDonald’s?” I ask each time.

“Taco Bell, please,” she most often replies.

She loves Mexican food.

Who knew!