What A Food Exposure Looks Like
Sometimes smaller is better! New food exposures can actually be as small as a crumb or the size of a pea.
A small portion is more approachable for kids. It doesnt dominate a plate and if your child does decide to eat, lick, or even just smell the food exposure, its a manageable task.
For your, the benefit of serving very small exposure means youre wasting less food and spending less time preparing food.
Picky Eating Or Feeding Disorder
Dr. Eric Levey, medical director of Pediatric Feeding Disorders Continuum at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said that feeding problems in children with ASD can range from mild to severe. He said that most feeding problems are often mild at the onset, but in some cases become severe because parents have difficulty managing their child’s challenging behavior and end up enabling them.
Some children with severe feeding problems are so selective with their food that it qualifies as a disorder.
Peter Girolami, Ph.D., clinical director of Pediatric Feeding Disorders at Kennedy Krieger, said that typically-developing children may also have preferences, refuse some foods now and then, and throw an occasional tantrum, but in other instances, they try different foods. “Children with autism, however, take selective eating to another level,” he said. “For example, a child may want this particular brand of French fry. If the parents don’t give that to him, he may respond with a burst of tantrums.”
Dr. Olive said children with autism who have feeding problems fear new foods. “We often see that they develop inappropriate behaviors to avoid themfor example, they don’t want to use a certain utensil or sit at the table. And the parents naturally let the kids have their way because they just want to get them to eat,” she said.
Dr. Girolami and Dr. Olive said that children with autism tend to go days without eating when they do not get the foods that they want.
Top 5 Methods To Help Your Autistic Child Overcome Picky Eating
Here are some ways you can help your child if they struggle with specific issues:
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Autism & Dietary Struggles
People on the autism spectrum have a developmental condition that manifests in a range of behavioral differences and struggles. These can include trouble with both verbal and nonverbal communication, problems understanding social etiquette, and difficulty with attention span and memory. People who are diagnosed as autistic can typically benefit from behavior therapy.
Applied behavior analysis therapy is the most widely used and recommended approach to helping people with autism manage their behaviors by changing maladaptive practices into positive interactions.
These behavioral struggles can become evident in people with autism as feeding problems. An autistic persons issues with food may manifest as:
- Rituals around eating.
- Pocketing food in their cheeks or sucking on food instead of chewing it.
- Strongly preferring certain foods.
- Avoiding certain foods.
People with autism are also at higher risk for gastrointestinal problems. Children with autism may avoid certain foods or develop strong texture or temperature aversions because of the physical discomfort they associate with those sensations.
In frustration, parents of autistic children may limit their childs foods to only those they know will be accepted. However, this is not a sustainable model to develop healthy eating and nutrition habits.
Treating Eating Issues Is Autism Treatment
After my success with my son in getting him to eat better, I attended a conference about eating issues in autism. The presenter was a national expert whose practice revolved around this issue. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the methods I used with my son closely mirrored what he did. One thing he said that resonated with me was that treating eating issues was autism treatment. The act of expanding your childs palate addresses many core autism issues such as rigidity, tolerance of change, sensory needs, and improved health and wellness.
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Forcing Foods Does Not Help
Attempting to force your child to eat foods that they dont tolerate will not help with the eating struggles for autistic children.
In fact, it can make the eating struggles more severe.
Imagine you are absolutely petrified of water and it is literally painful for water to touch your skin.
Do you think that someone throwing you into the deep end of a pool would help? Not quite.
Like I mentioned before, please do what you can to respect your childrens fears and intolerances.
If you need to, treat certain foods like allergens.
You wouldnt force peanuts on someone with an allergy, so dont force noodles on your child.
I know its hard. I know it feels like your child will never eat. I know that well-meaning family asks you if your child ever eats real food at parties. I know that the mean mom at the park gave you a nasty look for giving your child goldfish while she opened up her GMO-free-all-natural-fruit-something-or-other.
Try to hang on, mama.
Continue taking baby steps towards trying new foods, and get really good at making whatever it is they will eat!
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Strategies For Dealing With Sensory Issues With Food
There are some strategies that you can try at home to deal with food sensory issues.
They should be tried for a stretch of time, for 4 to 6 weeks for instance. They help desentizing the sensory system of the child in many aspects.
Here are a couple of those strategies:
Dont pressure your child. They are already having sensory overload. You dont want to add to the anxiety.
Try to be understanding and discuss their feelings openly. Let them know you understand how difficult it is for them to approach or eat certain things and that it is okay.
Play sensory games during the day.
Encourage and reinforce positive behaviors. When they are trying to get accustomed to a food, make sure you do it in small steps and reinforce positive behavior along the way.
Incorporate food in daily routine. Cook with your child. Have them get their hands dirty. Let them feel and play with the food while cooking, for instance.
Take baby steps. Sensory system of your child may change as they get older. So go slowly. Implement a system or routine that they will know what comes next.
Let them play and have fun . Adjusting new textures or smells may take time. Put a bowl of berries for them to touch and smell. This is a great way to ease these foods into their diet.
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Take Baby Steps When Introducing A Food
Many children with autism are resistant to new foods. To keep from turning the dinner table into a battlefield, it’s best to choose steps that allow your child to be successful.
A first step to introducing a new food might be simply placing the food on your child’s plate. If even that leads to problems, you can start by placing the food on the child’s plate for only a few seconds.
As soon as your child is successful with that first baby step, reward him! Rewards vary from child to child but should include warm praise, a hug if that’s something she likes, and a “motivator” such as a small amount of a preferred food or time doing a preferred activity.
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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How To Get Your Extreme Picky Eater To Eat: Proven Strategies That Work
by Jenny Friedman, RD | Feb 4, 2019
Feeding problems are seen in the vast majority of children with autism. Contributing factors include medical problems, psychological barriers, nutritional deficits, sensory disorder, oral-motor dysfunction, and environmental causes. These factors alone or together lead to food selectivity in up to87% of children on the spectrum.
Parents come to me seeking to expand the diet of their picky eater with Autism Spectrum Disorder not realizing that the eating behaviors they see are often more severe than typical picky eating. Children who eat under 20 foods, cant tolerate introductions to new foods, drop once preferred foods without ever reintroducing them, and neglect entire food groups or food types are actually categorized as problem feeders. Many children with autism fall into the problem feeder category and actually wont respond to many popular picky eating hacks.
Youve probably been told He wont starve himself, Hell eat when hes hungry enough, Shell outgrow this picky stage. This isnt true for many ASD children who have feeding problems.
Avoid Power Struggle Between You And Your Child
It’s easy to get frustrated with a child who simply won’t eat anything new. But it’s important to avoid setting up a situation in which you and your child are vying for power. The best way to avoid a power struggle is to set the bar low enough that your child will almost always succeed.
That may mean micro-mini steps at first: sniffing a food, tasting with the tongue, and so forth. The journey may take a while. But as your child succeeds, step by step, and wins your pride and motivating rewards, you may find it a more pleasant way to set your goals.
Other Senses Play A Major Factor
Sometimes you dont even get the food in their mouth, though.
Sometimes they will simply look at a food and not even consider touching it.
This is where it can be really frustrating when trying to get your child to eat.
Its important to keep in mind that autistic children tend to have heightened senses.
Maybe it smells fine to you, but it is a strong unpleasant smell for them.
Or maybe having a cup thats the wrong color is really visually disturbing to them.
Often autistic children will be extremely particular about the temperature of their food.
Be Patient Yet Consistent
You may feel overwhelmed or frustrated when your child simply refuses to eat or has a tantrum. But remember that you are not alone managing your expectations and being patient are critical.
Take slow steps and celebrate little wins occasionally. There will be setbacks try not to give up or be discouraged.
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New Foods Can Be Petrifying
Beyond not being able to handle certain sensory input related to food, simply trying a new food can be a petrifying experience for autistic children.
You know when you go to try a new exotic food and you get that little butterfly in your stomach because what if it is horrible?
Imagine that except about 100 times worse and then being forced to eat the food without any say.
Sound crazy? Yeah, it isnt fun.
Please do what you can to respect your childs fear and take a step by step approach to introducing new foods.
For example, first they need to accept the food in their space, then they might smell it, then they might touch it, then maybe a lick or taste, and eventually, they may be ready to eat it.
It can take a lot of time to build up a tolerance to new foods.
Carry On The Conversation
Todays article was requested by Magela over on the . If theres anything you would like to see discussed on the site, please leave a comment below and I will see about adding it to the schedule. Also, if you want to hear more about the challenges my anxiety has caused and how it impact me then please follow this link to my: World Mental Health Day post.
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.
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Food Sensory Issues In Babies
Food sensory issues cause challenges in babies, too. The symptoms are similar to a child who seems like a picky eater.
However, sensory issues cause physical impact for the baby. It is not just a matter of preference. They feel sensory overload due to the properties of a food.
Food sensory issues can cause a baby to:
- Refuse trying new foods
- Eat only a few favorite foods
- Avoid certain foods due to texture, temperature, color, smell
- Be fussy during feeding time
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.
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Encourage Your Child To Explore Play And Get Messy With Food
Children learn through play, and this includes playing with food. This dovetails nicely with the principle of gradual exposure that I described above. Encourage your child to interact with food through his or her senses. Talk about the look and feel of foods. Make interesting shapes with cookie cutters, etc.
Think of it as food school, and reserve some time each week to engage in food learning through play. Your child may or may not eat the foods he or she is exploring. The idea is to build a foundation that allows greater comfort with foods.
When To Take Steps That Can Improve Your Childs Eating Habitsand How To Succeed
Feeding concerns are common for children with autism. In fact, children with autism are five times more likely than their peers to develop a feeding problem. However, it can be difficult to tell whether a childs eating habits are normal or require intervention.
Read on to learn more about feeding issues associated with autism and what steps you need to take to ensure that your child is getting appropriate nutrition and help with eating.
Identifying a feeding problem
Mealtime problems are common in young children and can include:
- Fluctuating hunger
- Unwillingness to try new foods
- Strong food preferences
Even though picky eating is a common problem, research suggests that its usually a temporary and normal part of development. However, children with autism often have more chronic feeding problems that go beyond picky eating. This may mean the child wont eat an entire category of food such as proteins or vegetables. Or it may mean that a child exhibits intense problem behaviors when offered foods they dont like.
Types of feeding problems associated with autism
Impact on family life
Risks associated with food selectivity
- Poor bone growth
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Research indicates that children with autism tend to have a lower intake of calcium and protein in their diets, which can result in preventable diet-related diseases.
Tips for expanding your childs diet
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