Getting Help For Fussy Eating In Autistic Children And Teenagers
If your child eats in a very selective or restrictive way or seems to have a small or reduced appetite, they might not be getting the nutrients they need. Its a good idea to talk with your childs GP or paediatrician or a dietitian. And its always best to talk with one of these professionals if you think you need to supplement or significantly change your childs diet.
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
Develop A Meal Schedule
Regular schedules are often very important for autistic children. This includes mealtime. Regularly scheduled meals and snacks help your child know what to expect.
If your childs meals tend to be in front of the TV, on the go, or generally not at the table, experts at the advise slowly introducing family dinner and other mealtimes at designated places.
To start, they suggest having your child sit for as little as 30 seconds and gradually increasing the time you expect them to sit at the table with you. Ideally, you can work up to 15- or 30-minute meals at the table.
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Autism And Eating: 8 Tips To Help A Picky Eater With Autism
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Autism and eating is a hot topic among parents with a child on the autism spectrum.
And with good reason.
While fussy eating is common among many children, having a picky eater with autism can be much more extreme. Some kids;with ASD have gastrointestinal issues they cant verbalize, others have strong food texture issues, some have sensory eating issues regarding certain tastes and smells, and still others have rituals around food that make it impossible for them to eat anything thats not a certain color, brand, food group, etc.
Whatever the reason for your childs picky eating, it can be extremely frustrating and challenging, not to mention worrying, but Im here to tell you theres hope.
There are things you can do to help a picky eater with autism.
Will these strategies work overnight?
But Im a big believer in the idea that good things come to those who work hard and persevere, and feel the long-term success far outweighs the short-term pains when it comes to figuring out the autism and eating puzzle as it relates to your individual child.
How These Behaviors Escalate
Often parents who have children with autism are focused on a number of different needs at the same time and many of those speech issues, toileting, school placement, overall compliance take precedence over the variety of foods a child is accepting. Feeding issues get back-burnered until either they become untenable or parents are able to focus on them.
If the child eats 10 foods and those 10 foods are keeping them alive and safe and fine, then parents will default to those foods, says Dr. Lee. But ignoring these issues tends to make them tougher to solve. The longer these negative mealtime behaviors go on, the more ingrained they become and the longer they take to treat successfully. That doesnt mean parents should give up, just that the process is probably going to take longer and require more persistence and patience on everyones part.
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Rely On Time Repetition And Familiarity:
Take your time and allow enough time for your child to get over any aversion to the food. ;You try to introduce only one food at a time, and you stick with it. When you first start, the best foods for autism integration diets are similar to foods that your child already enjoys. For example, the new foods you that you target , should be similar to foods that he/she already likes. Introducing new foods to picky eaters might look like going from chicken nuggets to trying baked chicken. Identifying meal ideas for autistic children can be challenging, but following this pattern for gradually transitioning from favorite food into a more adventurous option has proved successful for many families.
Picky Eating Vs Sensory Food Sensitivities
As we discussed before, feeding issues can be a challenge for every parent or caregiver. Children could favor one type of food over others and dont like a variety of foods.
Picky eaters are like that. They may not like eating a variety of foods.
It is similar to those who have sensory food sensitivities who dont like eating certain types of foods. However, there is a difference between these rejection in their diet.
For children with sensory food sensitivities, such sensitivities can cause food aversion where the child avoids food. They may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to foods due to the sensory issue.
Some textures, colors, temperatures or smells of foods can be uncomfortable for children with sensory sensitivities.
Fibery texture of a vegetable can feel like large chunks in the childs mouth, while others may not even taste any flavor. For picky eaters, these do not cause sensory overload.
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Requires A Special Meal And Does Not Regularly Eat The Family Meal
Because of their myriad of restrictions and sensitivities, extreme picky eaters tend to eat different foods than the rest of their family. Parents often report cooking more than one family meal, which leads to stress and additional time in the kitchen preparing and cleaning. As most picky eaters can find at least something to enjoy in most situations, this can be a sign of extreme behavior.
Food Selectivity In Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Raiten and Massaro published one of the first studies designed to compare the dietary intakes of children with ASDs and typically developing children. In their study of 40 children with ASDs and 34 typically developing children, the authors found that children with ASDs were more likely to adhere to the same foods and to show more food preferences than their typically developing peers. However, no statistical analyses were reported to indicate whether these differences were significant.
Several studies have compared food selectivity in children with ASDs to that of children in other clinical populations. In a retrospective chart review of 349 children ages 1 month to 12 years referred for a feeding evaluation , Field et al. found that the prevalence of food selectivity by type of food was significantly higher for children with ASDs than the other children in the study. However, information was obtained from a chart review based on interdisciplinary team evaluations and medical records, but no specific information was provided on how assessments were made.
The studies described above indicate that food selectivity is a significant problem for many children with ASDs. However, the lack of a clear definition of food selectivity, the small numbers of children in most of the studies, and the lack of a control group make it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the magnitude and impact of the problem.
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Eats Alone Most Or All Of The Time
Extreme picky eaters are more likely to eat alone than traditional picky eaters. This can be because they cannot tolerate being around non-preferred foods or because they have trouble experiencing other people eating. The sounds and smells that come with shared mealtimes are sometimes just too much. Rather than endure an uncomfortable mealtime that could further impede intake, many extreme picky eaters become accustomed to eating on their own.
Theres no need to worry about a child who sometimes eats on their own. Its when a child is unable to eat with others that you might want to consider seeking treatment. Eating with others is an important experience with tremendous social benefits. Plus, eating with friends and family can also help children to expand their diets.
Why Do So Many Children With Asd Suffer From Feeding Problems
There are many qualities of children with ASD that could cause feeding problems, including: sensory impairments; restricted interests and insistence on sameness; anxiety about changes to routines or novel situations; ritualized behavior; increased focus on details of food presentation; impulsivity and challenging behavior; challenges with social skills and decreased responsiveness to the social rewards of eating; oral-motor skill deficits, biologic food intolerances or history of gastrointestinal discomfort; disrupted eating patterns; responding to internal states of hunger; and/or aversive learning events paired with eating, such as gagging, choking or vomiting episodes.
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What Is A Feeding Clinic
A feeding clinic is a place where people can go to receive direct feeding therapy by a qualified professional. Depending on the area of need, this therapy can be administered by an Occupational Therapist and a Speech Pathologist . If the issue is with the mouth and swallowing of the food, it is likely to be the Speech Pathologist. If it is a motor issue like learning to chew or feed independently, then it could be given by an Occupational Therapist.
Use Positive Role Modeling
Be a positive role model by leading the way with all activities. When introducing a meal, eat it with them and say something positive about the food. For example, parents could say that they like the texture of the food in their mouth, or that they are really enjoying the foodâs savory taste. Children tend to imitate adults who are around them, so it is important to show positive behaviors for them to model. If the child has older siblings, try to get them involved with being a positive role model as well.
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Take Food Out Of Their Brand Boxes Or Containers
My alarm bells go off when I hear of children eating only a specific brand of a specific food. I know of several parents who spend inordinate amounts of time searching out particular brands because their children refuse anything else. I counsel my families to avoid this issue altogether by taking food out of boxes as soon as they unpack the groceries. Put food in clear containers. Rotate brands as much as possible so your child is less likely to get stuck on a highly specific taste, look and texture.
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.
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Anything That Will Drive Parents Nuts
Parents of kids with autism have an awful lot on their plates. As a result, you can’t blame them if they can’t muster up extra patience to deal with a toy that makes annoying sounds or promotes indoor climbing.
Even if you think it’s funny, try not to give a child with autism a toy that’s likely to say the same things over and over, or a toy that’s likely to wind up in a thousand pieces on the floor.
In fact, if you really think a child with autism would just love a wild, loud toy, the very best present you can give is to take that child – and that toy – outside, where you can have crazy fun together… out of earshot of the rest of the family.
If Your Child Is A Picky Eater Here Are Four Things To Add To Mealtime To Help:
1.) Continue to serve formerly preferred foods
Formerly preferred foods are any foods your child used to eat and has since started rejecting. Think of anything all the way back to first foods up to the foods they most recently started rejecting. You can serve these in small portions the same way they were used to eating them or change up the presentation a little.;
2.) Offer tiny portions of new foods
Small portions are key. You might want to start as small as a penny or even tinier – the size of a grain of rice!
Additionally, you can give your child a choice about the foods youll serve: which food do you want to work on? Which size bite do you want? Try to only offer two options for them to choose between.
3.) Expose your child to non-preferred foods, even if its just the ones that youre eating
Dont isolate your child from non-preferred foods even if theyre uncomfortable being around them. Exposureis crucial for learning to like new foods. If they cant tolerate a non-preferred food on their plate yet, you can always place them on the table or ensure that they witness you or other family members eating a variety of foods.
4.) Involve them in food-related activities such as gardening, grocery shopping, and cooking
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Increase Vitamins And Minerals
We have known since the 1970s that a nutritional approach can help autism, thanks to the pioneering research by Dr Bernard Rimland of the Institute for Child Behaviour Research in San Diego, California. He showed that vitamin B6, C and magnesium supplements significantly improved symptoms in autistic children. In one of his early studies back in 1978, 12 out of 16 autistic children improved, then regressed when the vitamins were swapped for placebos9. In the decades following Dr Rimlands study, many other researchers have also reported positive results with this approach.
Still others have, however, failed to confirm positive outcomes with certain nutrients. For example, a French study of 60 autistic children found they improved significantly on a combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium, but not when either nutrient was supplemented alone11. This study shows how important it is to get the balance of these nutrients right. Its likely to be different for each child.
Paediatrician Mary Megson from Richmond, Virginia, believes that many autistic children are lacking in vitamin A. Otherwise known as retinol, vitamin A is essential for vision. It is also vital for building healthy cells in the gut and brain.
Wheres the evidence?;Search our;evidence database;andenter vitamins or minerals or nutrients or retinol and autism into the search field for a summary of studies that demonstrate the effect of these nutrients on autism.
Is Food Aversion A Sign Of Autism
Individuals with autism have sensory issues, food aversion being one of them. You may notice that your child with autism is a picky eater and eats only a limited selection of food.
The sensory issues that come along with autism spectrum disorders can cause food aversion.
This can mean that your child is hyper- or hypo-sensitive to certain texture, temperature or smell of foods. In return, food aversion can occur.
It is found that children with autism are five times more likely to have challenges relating to food. They have extremely narrow food selections and meal-related tantrums.
If you suspect that your child has a sensory food aversion, you may want to consult your pediatrician about it.
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Autism And Food: How To Deal With A Picky Eater
Theyll grow out of it.
Its just a phase.
Dont worry, theyll eat when theyre truly hungry.
As a parent of a child who struggles to eat, these phrases might be ones youve heard before. Picky eating is a common part of childhood. So much so that over 50 percent of parents identify their child as picky at some point in their youth. Therefore, when a childs diet starts to narrow or their intake dwindles, many can be quick to dismiss concerns about what or how much a child eats.
Yet not all picky eating is created equal. Traditional picky eating is a developmental phase that coincides with the change in childrens appetite, growth, and increasing maturity. Its fairly common and, importantly, its usually temporary.
Extreme picky eating, on the other hand, tends not to spontaneously resolve and its often not a result of natural development. Instead, more severe picky eating is usually associated with underlying developmental delays or challenges.
This article will help you distinguish severe or extreme picky eating from traditional picky eating behaviors so you can determine how to best help your child learn to eat with ease and enjoyment.
Feeding Problems In Children With Autism
Children with autism spectrum disorder may have restrictive and ritualistic behaviors that affect their eating habits. Some of them limit what they eat, in some instances so severely that it results in nutritional deficiencies1 that lead to weight loss, malnutrition and inadequate growth, said Melissa Olive Ph.D., a psychologist who treats children with ASD with feeding disorders at her practice in New Haven, Connecticut.
Research differs on how prevalent picky eating is in children with autism, but says that children with autism are much more likely than typically-developing children to be selective with food1,2.
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