As children with autism become older, many need to shift their focus from the developmental phase of learning and training themselves in new skills towards a more independent lifestyle. This is particularly difficult when they are faced with something as fundamentally social as food. With proper guidance, however, eating disorders such as picky eating can be cured before they start or even exist at all.
Feeding and eating difficulties affect up to 90% of children with autism.
A child’s feeding and eating problems go beyond being a finicky eater. These concerns may have a substantial impact on a child’s ability to grow, develop healthy eating habits, and prosper physically and emotionally.
People with autism often struggle with fine and gross motor abilities, which may make eating challenging. Gastrointestinal problems are also prevalent.
People with autism may find it difficult to communicate their eating desires and demands due to communication impairments. They often have sensory difficulties, which result in Aversions to certain foods.
By strengthening autistic children’s relationships with food and eating in general, feeding therapy may help them consume more balanced and healthy meals. As a result, feeding therapy may help improve physical health and promote long-term healthy behaviors.
What Is Autism Feeding Therapy and How Does It Work?
Feeding and eating problems are prevalent in autistic children, and they may lead to other health and nutrition problems.
Autism causes children to be rigid and hypersensitive to textures, scents, and tastes. As a result, individuals may be restricted in the sorts of meals they are willing to try.
Feeding therapy may help an autistic kid increase his or her diet and improve negative eating and feeding patterns. Feeding therapy may be a component of speech and language therapy, behavioral therapy, or occupational therapy as part of a holistic treatment plan.
Feeding treatment for autism is provided by trained and qualified experts with the support and assistance of parents and caregivers.
Identifying the Issue
Feeding treatment will begin with an evaluation to discover the particular causes for a child’s feeding and eating challenges. Food allergies and sensitivities, seizure disorders, pain, reflux, and gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea, stomach discomfort, and persistent constipation should all be checked out and/or treated initially.
An autistic child’s eating challenges may manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including crying, tossing plates and food, choking, gagging, not sitting up straight, vomiting, and a reluctance to eat.
Sensory difficulties may cause persons with autism to get obsessed on just eating particular meals or eating non-food items like pebbles or dirt.
The following are some of the unique eating difficulties related with autism:
Issues with swallowing
Poor posture and lack of support from the center of the body.
Aversions to certain foods.
Rigidity when it comes to diet and modifications.
Issues with sensory perception and texture.
Having difficulty eating oneself.
What is the Relationship Between Behavior Therapy and Feeding Therapy?
Feeding therapy tries to address the particular factors that are causing the person’s eating and feeding problems. For example, specialized speech and language therapists may assist with eating challenges such as chewing and swallowing. Occupational therapists may assist in the development of feeding-related gross and fine motor skills. This encourages self-feeding and eating independence.
Autistic children often engage in bad behaviors around meals in order to avoid having to eat or try something new. Feeding therapy works directly with parents and caregivers to educate them how to redirect their children’s actions and stop encouraging them. This is often a focus of treatment.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a kind of behavior treatment that focuses on reinforcing good behaviors while reducing negative ones. ABA may aid in the improvement of self-care activities, such as eating.
For an autistic person and their family, mealtimes and eating may be stressful. Feeding therapy may help clients cope and manage their anxiety by allowing them to relax enough to eat and reducing their aversions to food and mealtimes.
Feeding Therapy’s Efficacy in Autism
Feeding therapy, when included in a treatment plan that also includes behavioral treatments, may be beneficial to autistic children in a variety of ways. It’s been shown that feeding treatment may help with:
Increase the number of people who try and consume new cuisine.
Assist youngsters in sitting properly during a meal.
Increasing the quantity of food eaten is a good idea.
Reduce tantrums and other bad eating and mealtime habits.
Autism is a disorder that spans a wide range of symptoms. More treatment and intervention are required when there is a higher degree of impairment in speech and motor abilities. With more severe autistic symptoms, it may take longer for all forms of treatment, including food therapy, to produce favorable effects.
Who is the therapist?
Feeding treatment for children with autism is available from a variety of sources, including:
Speech and language pathologists are specialists in the field of communication disorders (SLPs).
Practitioners of occupational therapy (OTs and OTAs).
Psychiatrists and psychologists for children.
Therapists that specialize on behavioral issues.
Dieticians or nutritionists.
Occupational and speech therapy are often provided via public schools as part of an early intervention program or an educational plan. Typically, these services concentrate on educational and social requirements, which may include certain anticipated eating habits. They are typically more successful in assisting youngsters who are on the higher end of the spectrum.
If your kid has eating and feeding problems as a result of autism, the first step is to discuss your concerns with your child’s physician. Comorbid physical and mental health disorders that might occur with autism will also need to be addressed and treated.
It is critical to improve communication skills. Because children with autism often have difficulty communicating their ideas and emotions, they may not be able to tell a caregiver that their stomach aches and that this is why they are refusing to eat.
Locating a Feeding Therapy Professional
Your doctor may make suggestions and send you to feeding therapy professionals.
Insurance companies may cover feeding treatment. Feeding therapy may be covered by your insurance plan if it covers applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy as treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Any extra expenditures that are not covered by insurance must be met by the patient. The cost of a session varies depending on the service, but it usually costs between $100 and $250 per hour.
Private providers are often used to handle more serious feeding concerns. Feeding treatment may be done at home, in clinics, or in hospitals.
Talk to your kid’s doctor and any other experts who see your child if he or she is having feeding or eating problems. They could recommend you to a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If your kid is currently receiving ABA therapy, you may discuss including feeding and eating therapy into their overall treatment plan with their therapist.
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.