Autism Spectrum Disorder And Picky Eating
Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often worry that their child may not be getting the required nutrients, as most children on the spectrum are picky eaters. In fact, most parents find mealtime rather challenging. According to the research at Marcus Autism Center at Emory University School of Medicine, it has been observed that children with ASD are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as tantrums, extreme food selectivity, and ritualistic eating behaviors.
In this blog, we will discuss how parents can overcome this issue by following simple yet powerful tried and tested strategies at home.
Do not neglect medical problems
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may refuse to eat particular food items. Since many children on the spectrum find it difficult to express their emotions, we recommend parents look out for nonverbal cues in their children. For example, your child may clamp their lips when you’re trying to feed them. Gastrointestinal distress is one of the common problems in children with ASD. It is advisable that parents visit a doctor who can help them create a diet plan for their child.
Get creative with introducing new food items to your child by following the procedure given by your child's doctor. Make a list of food items that your child would like and introduce them at regular intervals. Many children on the spectrum need to taste a certain food item multiple times before they develop a liking for it. However, if your child refuses particular food items, even after trying several times, it may mean they don’t like it.
Try new recipes
Give your child the freedom to try new recipes. When they get a chance to explore food items by touching and smelling, they also get a sense of what the food item may taste like. We recommend parents add their child's favorite food to other food items that they’d like their child to eat.
Pay attention to feel of the food, not the flavor
Sometimes, what may matter most to children with ASD is how the food feels in their mouth even more than how it tastes. Hence, textures, color, etc. of the food item matter. For instance, if your child likes strawberries, you can blend them into a smoothie or chop it and add to their favorite food - allow your child to consume food in a texture they prefer.
Get creative with food items
To ensure that mealtime is pleasant, do not overwhelm or cause anxiety in children with ASD by putting out too many food items. We recommend parents convert vegetables and fruits into interesting geometrical shapes to make the entire experience of eating more appealing to their children. While cutting the vegetable, parents can taste that particular item and make it obvious to their child that they are enjoying it - this helps children realize that they too can enjoy it.
Let your child decide what to eat
We understand that parents of children with ASD are worried about their child not getting essentials vitamins and protein intake due to their food choices. As discussed earlier, we recommend parents prepare a diet chart to keep a track of their daily protein and essential vitamin intake. For instance, your child’s doctor may suggest your child needs 3 servings of vegetables and 5g of protein per day. By following the diet chart, you can allow your child to choose various vegetables of their preference, that meet the overall daily target rather than force her to eat one vegetable.
For more information regarding sensory therapy, cognitive skills, behavior therapy, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize on acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age-appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.