Do you have trouble convincing your child to eat a well-balanced meal? Food-related conflicts can be complex with any child, but autism spectrum disorder as a factor can make it even more difficult. Often, children on the autism spectrum have sensory processing issues, which can be triggered by foods that look, taste, feel, or smell undesirable. Because autism is a spectrum of symptoms, treatments can vary between children, but we’ve listed below some things to consider as you work with your picky eater.
Give Them Some Control
You may have been raised in the clean-your-plate generation, where the expectation was that you eat everything on your plate whether you liked it or not. Modern wisdom suggests that the tactic is ineffective and may not promote willingness in your child. There are some foods that parents with children with autism spectrum disorder choose to avoid, like processed foods, gluten, and dairy. Outside of those undesirable foods, why not allow your child to have some choice over what they eat? For each meal, you may put three or four items on their plate, some that you know they will eat, and one or two new foods. Even if they don’t eat them, exposure to new foods can help bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Allow your child to have some choice in what they eat, and you may experience less pushback.
Let Them Experiment
Sometimes proximity to new foods can remove the stigma from it. Allow your child to get their hands dirty, touch, taste, smell, and experiment with new foods. Let them work with you to make their sandwich or eat with their hands if they need to. Some great food options for children with autism spectrum disorder are pudding or other soft foods, ants in a log or other foods they can assemble easily, or snack trays they can enjoy with their hands.
Hear Their Concerns
If your child consistently resists certain foods, take the time to listen to their concerns; there might be a good reason. Many children with autism spectrum disorder are hypersensitive to food textures. Don’t be so rushed trying to achieve eating milestones that you miss out on your child’s reasonable concerns. For example, if you want your child to eat eggs, they may be more interested in eating scrambled eggs than fried eggs. Or, if they resist tomatoes because of the squishy pulp, they may be open to tomatoes that are diced. If your child can articulate their concerns, the simple act of paying attention may make a world of difference.
Take The Pressure Off
If you feel anxiety about your child’s eating, they probably feel that pressure too. Relieve the pressure from your whole family by removing the expectation of perfection and taking the emotions out of the situation. If you can look and feel practically about the situation, then your picky eater might not feel so much anxiety. You and your autistic child are on a journey together, and this food journey is just one stop on the way.
You’re doing a great job navigating the ins and outs of having a child with autism spectrum disorder. Every child on the spectrum is different, and while they have some commonalities, their needs vary greatly. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate this experience on your own. At AchieveAbility, our therapists are specially trained to come alongside parents and their children and help make food a less anxiety-ridden topic in their households. If you’d like to learn more about our therapy services or if you’re ready to sign up for an evaluation of your child, contact our office today.