It is important to know how to help your child eat in a healthy, safe manner while they are developing and learning. Here are some tips on being proactive with food so you can avoid behavioral issues later down the road.
“Food touching autism” is one of the most common causes for picky eating. There are a few methods that parents can use to help their child eat better, such as introducing new foods slowly, and rewarding good behavior. Read more in detail here: food touching autism.
Food and mealtimes are often problematic for children with autism. These behavioral, emotional, and physical issues are more than just a dislike for some meals.
Children with autism may reject more food than they consume, preferring extremely particular textures or smells, eating only familiar foods, or refusing to eat more than five different meals.
According to one study, 70 percent of autistic children exhibit “atypical eating patterns,” which is around 15 times the incidence of neurotypical children in their age group. Children with autism were also more likely to have two or more unusual eating habits, while children with other developmental disabilities had less food issues.
Food Preferences vs. Food Rejection: Autistic Children Have More Problems With Food Preferences
As toddlers, many children become picky eaters, avoiding some meals due to taste, smell, texture, and other factors. For parents, it may appear that your child is being obstinate for no reason, which can be frustrating, especially as you try to transition them from baby food to regular food, encourage them to eat fruits and vegetables, and expose them to new foods that aren’t necessarily similar to the foods they prefer.
The problems with eating that children on the autism spectrum face are not the same as what is often referred to as “picky eating.” Most youngsters become picky eaters at some time in their lives, but they eventually grow out of it.
Unless they get behavior treatment, children with autism will continue to have hyper-focus on certain foods. Nutritional therapy may also assist in ensuring that your kid consumes a well-balanced diet.
The Reasons behind Picky Eating
Early intervention with a behavior therapist is recommended for children with autism. This will assist them with adjusting symptoms of autism that have become maladaptive behaviors, such as social isolation, repetitive or ritualistic activities, or a refusal to eat all but a few foods.
Some food rejection may be connected with gastrointestinal problems. Constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive problems are common among people with autism. If a youngster believes that a certain food causes them pain, they may reject it, grow wary of mealtimes in general, or throw tantrums when it comes to eating.
Finally, food rejection might be caused by motor difficulties. Autism affects children’s muscular tone and motor coordination more than their peers. This might appear as a preference for softer, crunchier, or fibrous meals with consistent textures over harsher, crunchier, or fibrous ones that need more chewing.
Top 5 Techniques for Assisting Your Autistic Child in Overcoming Picky Eating
If your kid is having trouble with a certain topic, here are some suggestions:
Small samples should be offered. Keep note of the meals your kid enjoys and introduce new foods in moderate doses with the ones they currently like.
If they prefer chicken nuggets, for example, you may introduce crumb-sized bits of broccoli to get them acclimated to the food’s presence, look, feel, taste, and texture. They may refuse to eat it on the first day, but as you continue to place tiny quantities of it on their plate, they will get used to it and begin to consume it.
You may gradually increase the size of the broccoli bits as they get used to them. Start by introducing meals with comparable textures and/or tastes to what your youngster currently enjoys.
Try diminishing the stimuli. Offering little sips works wonderfully in this situation. The practice of progressively increasing the size of items given is known as stimulus fading in the context of eating disorders. This applies to meals that your kid may have previously rejected or that have textures, scents, or tastes that vary significantly from what your child now enjoys.
You may raise the size of the bits at the following meal when your kid has eaten three consecutive mouthful of this food within 30 seconds without gagging or crying.
Foods should be paired together. Combine meals that you know your kid like with things that they haven’t tried before. Positive reinforcement is possible as a result of this. You may offer your youngster a mouthful of the meal they like for every little taste of the stuff they don’t like.
For positive reinforcement, you may also utilize different token systems. If your kid has a snack of a cuisine they dislike, for example, they may spend the additional time doing something they prefer, such as watching a movie.
Use desensitization techniques. If your kid has flatly refused a specific item but you need it in their diet, you may gradually reintroduce it.
If your youngster despises oranges, for example, start by placing one in the same room with them during playing. They will get used to the food’s existence without having to engage with it. You can transfer the food to the table during meals after they’ve become accustomed to it, but your kid still doesn’t have to eat or touch it. Then you may place the food on their plate while they are still deciding whether or not to eat it.
Finally, after their first sentiments of rejection against the dish have been addressed, you may persuade them to taste it.
Textures may be changed. If your kid refuses to eat particular textures, you may prepare a larger variety of meals that match their preferred textures. If they only eat semisoft foods, for example, you may supplement their diet with cooked fruits and vegetables that match the textures of the grains and proteins they enjoy.
Support Your Child’s Picky Eating with a Variety of Approaches
You may also change the way you give your kid meals. Instead of asking what your kid wants to eat, inform them about the many possibilities. You may provide a variety of nutritious meals so that kids have a choice, but all of the selections are healthy.
Allowing your kid to assist in the preparation of food is another approach to help them get used to it. By pairing some dishes with others, you may hide the scent of particular foods. You might also try offering your youngster something tasty to drink after they’ve eaten a cuisine they didn’t like before.
If there is an underlying reason for your child’s rejection and pain, you may need to work with their doctor and behavior therapist to treat their physical health. For most children with autism, behavioral methods to eating are the most effective. You’ll notice less selective eating and increased willingness to try new things as time goes on.
The “food ideas for picky autistic child” is a blog post that discusses 5 methods to help parents deal with their children who are on the spectrum.
- autism and food refusal
- my autistic child won’t eat
- habits of an autistic child
- how to get a child with autism to eat
- recipes for autistic picky eaters
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.