Autism and Food-Related Issues: Help for Picky Eaters

Autism - Picky Eaters

Some families may take peaceful, stress-free meals together for granted, but we’re guessing that yours isn’t one of them. If your child has autism, then it’s likely you’ve dealt with drama surrounding food and mealtimes. We understand how challenging it can be to accommodate your child’s food preferences while still providing a balanced, nutritious diet. To help your favorite picky eater expand his or her horizons, we suggest the following steps:

First, investigate possible medical issues.

Since a significant percentage of individuals with autism have food intolerances and allergies, they can feel physically ill when they eat certain foods. Yet since autism also involves communication difficulties, these individuals may not give voice to their felt experiences.

As such, completing medical check-ups and relevant tests is important. If your child is a very picky eater, make an appointment to get him or her tested for gastrointestinal issues or common allergies.

Recognize the sensory components of eating and work to minimize discomfort.

Individuals with autism often experience the sensory aspects of eating more strongly than others. They might feel uncomfortable with the flavor or texture of a given food, but they might also struggle with sensory inputs surrounding the dining ritual itself.Encourage initial tasting, not eating.

In The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, our favorite stuffed bear is about to accept a delicious pot of honey, but his friend Rabbit snatches it away. Pooh pleads, “But Rabbit, I wasn’t going to eat it. I was just gonna taste it.”

When coping with a picky eater, scenes such as this remind us to separate tasting from eating. If tasting isn’t happening, have your child try sniffing a new food, touching it, or helping you to stir or serve it. This way, you’ll familiarize your child with the new food and make it more of a known entity.

Embrace the idea of going slow and making small wins.

This is where your Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) experience comes into play. By now, you understand that teaching your child a new skill involves breaking down the steps involved and practicing each component over and over again.

Take the long view

One of the most helpful decisions you can make when it comes to shifting your child’s eating habits is to take the long view. Decide that his habits don’t have to change all at once. Instead, begin laying the groundwork for them to change in the future.