Practical tips for dealing with picky eating in autistic children
This week is Autism Acceptance Week and I thought I’d put together some of my tips when it comes to autism picky food and autistic children.
My Son was diagnosed with autism almost six years ago and I understand that additional issues around food can arise.
These are some of the tips that work for us, but I know every child is different and that range of nutritional problems that can occur in autism are as extensive as the autism spectrum itself.
So if you have any tips of your own, please leave them in the comments as I’m sure they will help other parents who are facing similar issues.
1. Autism and delicate eating
Finicky eating, selective eating and more serious nutritional problems are very ordinary for autistic children.
Autistic children are five times are more likely to develop feeding difficulties than neurotypical children.
So don’t think at first that you are alone in this. You haven’t done anything wrong as a parent if you have any of these issues, and there are a few strategies that can help.
2. Sensory sensitivity and sensory search
It is quite normal for autistic children to have more increased sensory response to eat.
This can a sensory sensitivity to specific tastes, textures, smells and even temperatures. They may shy away from strong flavors and colors and prefer milder foods.
Or on the other hand they can locate bold flavors and crispy textures. Or even prefer their food to be hot.
Recognizing your child’s sensory response to food is a good place to start when trying to improve their diet.
3. The 80/20 rule
This is something I recommend for all picky eaters, but it’s especially important for autistic kids.
If you are trying to change your diet, it is imperative that you take it very small steps to reduce stress or anxiety.
A whole plate of brand new foods, or foods they normally refuse, will be overwhelming.
fill instead 80% her record with “secure” groceries and use the others 20% introduce something new.
It’s okay if they turn it down, but it helps to increase their exposure to this food over time.
4. Separate foods
A large plate of mixed foods can lead to sensory problems overwhelm for many autistic children.
Separating foods or meal components gives the child more choice and control and looks more visually appealing.
If you combine this method with the 80/20 rule, the child is less likely to refuse the whole plate of food.
I use a variety of split plates and lunch boxes for my son, but also small molds or muffin cases made of silicone are ingenious to achieve the same effect.
5. Food chaining
Food chaining is a strategy that can help children expand the list of foods they eat and also steer a child away from a particular brand or shape of food.
Many autistic children respond to food predictability, such as the shape of a branded chicken nugget or the size of a noodle pan.
Food chaining involves manufacturing a lot small and subtle changes to those foods with the end goal that they eat either an entirely new food or a healthier homemade version of a convenience meal.
6. Brand Dependence
It can be very common for autistic children to become addicted to a particular brand of food.
It’s understandable how branded food is predictable. It looks, tastes and smells the same every time.
As a parent, it’s easy to rely on this branded formula to ensure our child eats. However, problems can arise if that food is discontinued or the brand makes changes to the ingredients or the look of the food or the packaging.
If you notice your child becoming addicted to a certain brand, start there removed so much of Packaging as possible.
You can also Mix who have marketed foods with other brands or similar foods.
7. Exposure & Interaction
When trying to expand a child’s diet, exposure to new foods is key.
Have the new food visible and available is very important to them, even if they don’t eat it the first few times.
Once again, split plates can help by allowing them to put the new food on their plate without expecting to eat it.
But other interactions with new foods can also be very helpful. Go for example the grocery shopping and talk about the fruits and vegetables that are on the shelves.
Get your child involved food preparation is another brilliant combination. You will be exposed to that food but without the pressure to eat it.
8. Ask for help
Sometimes, nutritional issues in autistic children can go beyond normal picky eating.
A child can have Delays in physical development leading to struggles with feeding.
You may have digestive or bowel problems that make eating uncomfortable or painful.
Their bodies may not easily recognize normal Hunger or thirst signals.
Or they may have stricter fussy or selective eating habits FEAR – Avoidant/restrictive feeding disorder.
If you are at all concerned, you should talk to your GP or pediatrician and get a referral to a specialist doctor, nutritionist or nutritionist.