HELPING YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD OVERCOME PICKY EATING BEHAVIOUR
It is quite common for autistic children to develop a very restrictive diet or a picky eating behaviour because of their neurological disorder. In children, the risk of developing mealtime challenges is increased by five times, in relation to food selection, rituals before eating, and occasional temper outbursts. This issue on picky eating becomes an alarming situation for parents of autistic children that need the necessary nutrition as they grow and develop. If not addressed sooner, this will lead to more complications and health risks which are why parents of autistic children have the obligation of helping them overcome this challenge in eating. There are several ways to minimize the tendency of autistic children to become picky eaters, but the effectiveness of these methods heavily rely on the execution as well as the knowledge of the person trying to help.
These simple solutions are based on the characteristics of autism, as a neurological disorder. Factors such as hypersensitivity to sensory input like taste and smell, repetitive behaviour and difficulty in adapting to changes, are mainly put into consideration in arriving at these tips.
Be Gradual in Introducing New Food
Autistic children cannot easily accept changes in their environment, more so if it has something to do with their food. To successfully add another food or dish to your child’s delicate palate, make the introduction process follow a step-by-step order. You can let your children look at the food more closely, then letting them smell and touch it afterwards. Let your child address different sensory responses until they are comfortable enough to kiss or lick the food, which will most likely be followed with taking a bite. A good idea in introducing new food to your child is mixing it with their favourite, in a way that will make your child eat the whole thing you served.
Remain Calm and Patient
Even normal children need more than a couple tries in tasting their food, especially when it is newly introduced to them. As inquisitive as they are, children can be very meticulous in sampling their food, and it may take more than a while before they will finally accept it as an addition to their dietary “green light”. The same is true for autistic children, and they may take a little longer than normal children in getting to know their new food. This is why it is very important for parents or guardians to keep their cool when observing their child taste a new meal, even if their manner of tasting it is extra taxing than the usual. It may be because their sense of taste needs more stimuli to completely process the flavour and texture of the food. Also, do not be frustrated if your child ends up rejecting the food that they tried for so many times because it might simply mean that they don’t like it.
Consider if the Child has Digestion Problems
You must always see to it that you are not overlooking any possible digestive issues that your autistic child is experiencing. It is usually hard for autistic children to communicate their needs and complaints to the people around them because of speech challenges. As such, you must always be on the lookout for any sign of possible stomach problems. If your child deliberately finds a way to not eat the food, such as by closing the mouth with force, or by attempting to cry whenever you spoon feed it, these may be an indication that your child experiences discomfort when eating that specific food. If you think there is a reason to worry, consult a doctor as soon as possible in order to clarify this issue and eventually know whether the food is safe for your kid or not.
Check the Texture and Appearance of the Food
It is important that you also try to imagine what the food feels and looks like to your child, aside from the overall smell and taste of it. If your child is hypersensitive, chances are, they won’t like the food even if it tastes great because the texture is offensive to their mouth or eyes.Â Make it a point that you also consider these variables the next time you introduce new food to them.
Be Creative With Your Food and Have Fun With It
Children easily get attracted to things that give them fun and enjoyment. The same concept applies to food so parents are encouraged to use their creativity in introducing new food to their kids. You can bake cookies that are cut into a variety of shapes and designs, and put beverages in very fashionable containers that your child will surely like. If your child has aversive behaviour to a certain type of food, say vegetable or fruit, you can help ease their anxiety by playing with the food together with them. Making faces or animal shapes from cut veggies or fruits and painting tomato sauce to a pizza dough or jam on a bread can improve the child’s familiarity with the new food.
Give Your Child a Sense of Choice
It is highly impossible for your child to like all the food that you serve. Naturally, there will be some food that your child won’t like to eat. However, this shouldn’t be a reason to make your child feel like he or she doesn’t have any choice but to eat what is served to him or her. There are ways to provide your child with a sense of freedom in the choice of food. For instance, you can present 4-5 dishes of different types to your child and allow them to pick one meat dish and one vegetable dish. In cooking your child’s favourite dish, such as pasta, you may let your child choose among a variety of extra nutritional ingredients to add to the dish.
Don’t Spoil Your Child With Rewards
Bribing your autistic child to eat the food that you serve is very effective, but this practice should not be overdone to avoid spoiling your child and preventing them from learning the reason behind why you are serving that specific food. You don’t want to have your child eat the food but not really enjoy it, being fixated on the reward that you will give them in return.