Dont Wait For A Diagnosis
As the parent of a child with ASD or related developmental delays, the best thing you can do is to start treatment right away. Seek help as soon as you suspect somethings wrong. Dont wait to see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Dont even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier children with autism spectrum disorder get help, the greater their chance of treatment success. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your childs development and reduce the symptoms of autism over the lifespan.
When your child has autism
Learn about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorder, the better equipped youll be to make informed decisions for your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
Become an expert on your child. Figure out what triggers your kids challenging or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your child find stressful or frightening? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your child, youll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing or modifying situations that cause difficulties.
Dont give up. Its impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Dont jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your child. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
Mealtime And Children On The Autism Spectrum: Beyond Picky Fussy And Fads
;Marci Wheeler, MSW
Eating and feeding are common topics among parents of young children. First time parents learn and gather information about how and what to feed their children, what to expect during different stages of development, and how to promote positive and healthy eating habits. Many children develop what are described as mild feeding or eating problems at some point in their development. Doctors may take a few minutes at each visit to screen for feeding and diet issues along with measuring growth status. Doctors and nurses will listen and give some guidance for common feeding and nutrition issues. Many problems of picky eating and mealtimes are resolved with a little guidance and some patience. However, parents of children on the autism spectrum often seek further guidance and support for what are frequently much more severe eating problems.
Medical, behavioral, and environmental factors, including sensory difficulties, must be considered when feeding and eating problems occur. Within the scope of this article, medical and behavioral factors will be addressed briefly. Medical issues and frequently, behavioral issues, need to be assessed and addressed by working with the appropriate professionals. The environmental and sensory related issues will be discussed and outlined in more depth. It is the environmental and sensory related problems that families can often adjust on their own once they better understand their childs needs.
Working On Fussy Eating In Autistic Children: Why Its Important
Your child needs a variety of fresh, healthy foods for good health and development, so its important to work on fussy eating. Also, your childs fussy eating is unlikely to go away or change by itself, so ignoring the behaviour probably wont work.
But forcing your child to eat a new food can make things worse, because your child might refuse to eat altogether. So its almost always best to use strategies that encourage a varied diet and help your child gradually get comfortable with new foods.
Your child needs a wide variety of fresh foods from the five healthy food groups vegetables, fruit, grain foods, dairy or dairy-free alternatives and protein. You can find out more in our articles on healthy food for preschoolers, healthy food for school-age children and healthy food for teenagers.
When To Seek Professional Help
If pica is suspected, the behavior should always be discussed with a medical professional as soon as possible. Children may be tested for nutritional deficiencies to rule out malnutrition as an underlying cause. If a child is ingesting or attempting to ingest poisonous, sharp or metal objects, seek help immediately to prevent serious injury or illness.
Treating pica will require collaboration between family members, therapists, school personnel and medical professionals.
Tip : Find Nonverbal Ways To Connect
Connecting with a child with ASD can be challenging, but you dont need to talkor even touchin order to communicate and bond. You communicate by the way you look at your child, by the tone of your voice, your body language and possibly the way you touch your child. Your child is also communicating with you, even if he or she never speaks. You just need to learn the language.
Look for nonverbal cues. If you are observant and aware, you can learn to pick up on the nonverbal cues that children with ASD use to communicate. Pay attention to the kinds of sounds they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when theyre tired, hungry, or want something.
Figure out the motivation behind the tantrum. Its only natural to feel upset when you are misunderstood or ignored, and its no different for children with ASD. When children with ASD act out, its often because youre not picking up on their nonverbal cues. Throwing a tantrum is their way of communicating their frustration and getting your attention.
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Tip : Find Help And Support
Caring for a child with ASD can demand a lot of energy and time. There may be days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged. Parenting isnt ever easy, and raising a child with special needs is even more challenging. In order to be the best parent you can be, its essential that you take care of yourself.
Dont try to do everything on your own. You dont have to! There are many places that families of children with ASD can turn to for advice, a helping hand, advocacy, and support:
ADS support groups Joining an ASD support group is a great way to meet other families dealing with the same challenges you are. Parents can share information, get advice, and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others in the same boat and sharing their experience can go a long way toward reducing the isolation many parents feel after receiving a childs diagnosis.
Respite care Every parent needs a break now and again. And for parents coping with the added stress of ASD, this is especially true. In respite care, another caregiver takes over temporarily, giving you a break for a few hours, days, or even weeks.
Sensory Friendly Foods For Autistic Children
Children with autism with sensory food issues may like different types of foods.
Some with under-responsiveness may like crunchy foods , while others with over-responsiveness lean towards smoother textures depending on the underlying sensory problem.
There are various foods that are considered sensory friendly by many parents and caregivers.
These may be a great starting point when introducing new foods into the diets of the children.
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What Can I Feed My Picky Autistic Child
Autism and Food Aversions: 7 Ways to Help a Picky Eater#1 Rule Out Medical Problems. If your child is clamping her lips shut when offered a certain food, it may be that she knows it will make her stomach hurt. #2 Stay Calm. #3 Take Steps Toward Tasting. #4 Tune into Textures. #5 Play with New Food. #6 Offer Choices and Control. #7 Be Careful with Rewards.Oct 9, 2018
Support Your Childs Posture
Many children with autism have weakness in the core muscles of the stomach and back. Others have poor body awareness. That is they dont quite sense where their bodies are in space. Any of these issues can produce poor posture, wriggling and discomfort while sitting at the meal table. By providing support, you can help your child focus more on eating than on keeping his or her body on the chair.
If you see your child slouching, leaning or wriggling at the table, try placing rolled up towels around the back and hips to provide additional support. Also make sure that the feet have support. If they dont reach the floor, try placing a step stool in front of the chair and under the table.
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Autism And Eating Behaviors: Child Only Eats Junk Food
This weeks Food for Thought answer is from occupational therapist Moira Pena, of Torontos Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. The hospital is one of 14 centers in the;Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.
Ive heard that kids with autism will eventually eat if theyre hungry enough. Im considering taking away the hard candy, chips and crackers that our daughter snacks on all day to see if she will learn to eat real food. Ive tried giving her nutritious foods in the past, but nothing worked. Still I worry. If I take her junk food away, will she starve herself? Should I just get tough and go ahead with this?
Thanks for your question. First, let me reassure you that many parents of individuals on the autism spectrum will identify with your situation. In fact, a recent comprehensive;review of research on the subject;confirms that children with autism are;five times;more likely to struggle with eating issues compared to their typically developing peers.
The first step in addressing these issues is to recognize that feeding problems and unusual behaviors around eating are a common symptom of autism. Try not to feel guilty about your childs eating patterns. Its not your fault that your daughter isnt eating healthy foods. Your role as a parent is to offer nutritious options. Then its up to your child to eat.
What Causes Food Problems In Autistic People
Although it might not seem so, autistic people are often the ultimate foodies. This is because, when we sit down to eat, our minds dont just register the flavour and presentation but also every other sense and stimuli in our surroundings from the sounds we hear to the sights we see.
This is something which has always affected me and while, in recent years, my tolerance to sensory disturbances has improved, it used to be the case that a variety of senses would affect my meals; such as restaurants with electronic bathroom driers or even waitresses with too much makeup.
But while sensory problems are the most common reason for fussy eating on the spectrum, they arent the only one as many autistic people can struggle to eat something due to the connotations we have made with that particular food.
One example of this is a boy who would only eat pink foods. This arose after he had conditioned himself to believe that only pink food was healthy, due to the link he had made between wellness and the U.K.s favourite childrens medicine: Calpol .
This is not the end of the challenges autistic people have when it comes to eating, however, as there are also many other autistic quirk related factors which play a role in unhealthy diets: including those who are susceptible to pica and those with obsessive personalities, who may calorie count.
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Ruling Out Gi Problems
When a child on the autism spectrum is dealing with eating issues, the first stop for a parent should be a pediatric gastroenterologist who can rule out organic causes. Autistic kids may suffer from many of the same childhood GI disorders as other kids, notes Joseph Levy, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Hospital who works with autistic children, but kids on the spectrum may not be able to localize or verbalize their pain. As a result, parents need to be proactive about trying to find the source of their childs discomfort. Below are some of the more common GI issues kids may experience.
Mealtime Tips For Autistic Children With Eating Challenges
An Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network therapist shares her strategies for improving nutrition and mealtime behavior;
This weeks Food for Thought post is by occupational therapist Moira Pena, of Torontos Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. The hospital is one of 14 centers in the;Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network .
Editors note: The following information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as appropriate, with a qualified healthcare professional and/or behavioral therapist.
Feeding challenges are among the most common issues that bring children with autism and their parents to my practice.
Of course, childrens nutrition and mealtime behavior are common issues for parents everywhere. But research confirms what our ATN parents have long been telling us: Children with autism are far more likely to be overly selective in what they will and will not eat. As a result, many of them have less nutritional variety in their diets than their typically developing siblings and friends. Fear of new foods and outright food refusal are among the most common concerns I hear from parents.
This is why the Autism Speaks ATN, in its role as the federally funded Autism Research Network on Physical Health, developed Exploring Feeding Behavior in Autism: a guide for parents.
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Picky Eaters With Autism Are Common But The Reasons Are Unclear
No one really knows why so many children with autism are picky eaters, says Kimberly Kroeger-Geoppinger, an assistant pediatrics professor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. But there’s no doubt that it’s a common phenomenon. That means that parents’ permissiveness is probably not the cause.
Kroeger says there are several possible reasons for autistic children’s pickiness. “We know that children with autism tend to select down, eliminating one food from their diet at a time. The reasons could be sensory , or even a randomly developed routine.”
Picky Kids Eating And Autism: One Moms Strategy For Her Picky Eater
Getting healthy nutrition into the bellies of babes is often the source of many discussions, angst, and battles for many parents. Ask the parent of a child with autism or other special needs child about nutrition and their child, and you will often hear a response with groans of desperation and exasperation. Good nutrition and children with autism rarely go hand in hand easily. Often, parents give up and pick their battles elsewhere.
Autism affects each child uniquely. In some children with autism, sensory issues can make introducing new and nutritious foods extremely hard for parents and professionals. If that wasnt complicated enoughdealing with children who like sameness and routines, especially when it comes to the food they eat each day, provides another interesting challenge. Oral sensitivity issues can also make this difficult situation worse.
I knew there had to be another way. And for sake of my childs health, I had to find it. To find a solution, I first had to look back.
After introducing the GFCF diet in January 2000, we were able to change his diet and hide some nutrition in mini-meat loaves , cookies, and ever-versatile muffins. Out went the Burger King nuggets and various other unhealthy foods and enter the better, nutritious, organic foods. This took months to master and be successful at maintaining.; Mom finally prevailed! At last! A victory!
We Took the Long Road Getting Jeff Used to New Foods By Following These Steps
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Cause Of Feeding Problem In Autism May Be Unclear
However, Dr. Girolami said, the cause of the feeding problems sometimes may not be as clear. “For example, if the child is eating only fries, they’re chewing, and you can rule out motor issues. Then the resistance to other foods may just be a preference,” he explained. “But if you have a child who is only eating smooth food, we don’t know if he/she has an oral/motor issue or if it’s just a preference.”
In such a case, Dr. Girolami said, health care professionals present the child with different foods and observe their reaction. If the child who only eats smooth food and seems averse to other textures, health care providers judge the child to have motor deficits, such as jaw weakness that may prevent them from chewing his/her food. On the other hand, if the child seems open to trying other types of food, eating smooth food may be a preference.
“If we don’t get a reaction to some of the foods, we can assume that the child is not averse to trying it,” Dr. Girolami explained. “We can say, ‘Hey, he didn’t seem too put off by the carrot or he picked up that pear and sniffed it’. This can be helpful for us to get going with some kind of treatment.”
Treatments can help children overcome sensory problems by repeatedly exposing them to a food item they may be refusing until they eat it. This reduces their defensiveness to unfavorable sensory input, such as sound, light or color5.
Medical Assessments For Feeding And Eating Skills
The specific cause of food aversion and eating problems have not been determined and there are still studies conducted on the topic.
But it is a fact that children with autism have issues with feeding and eating skills.
It is known that certain medical, behavioral, and environmental factors such as sensory issues should be considered when you notice feeding problems.
Before the problem is addressed, the root cause of the feeding issue should be examined.
Medical conditions can impact eating habits. In return, eating habits impact health.
If there are medical problems affecting eating habits, they should be determined and managed appropriately.
Addressing behavioral problems comes after making sure that there is nothing wrong medically or the medical issues are addressed properly.
A dental exam should be done for cavities, infection, or other problems. These could be causing pain to the child and making it harder for them to eat.
Since sensory sensitivities can make oral care difficult for children with autism, going to an experienced pediatric dentist familiar with working with autistic children can help.
Oral-motor function including swallowing studies, assessment of food sensitivities and allergies, making a profile of the childs diet and nutritional issues can be done for medical assessments in terms of feeding and eating skills.
These information will also determine if the child is choking or gagging while eating.
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