Feeding and Autism Spectrum Disorders
By: Courtney Darsa, RDN, CDN
Diagnoses for autism have become more prevalent in the past decade. While autism itself is known to be a disorder that involves issues with social interaction, communication, and behavioral challenges, there are other problems that autism can present. Something you may not know that goes along with autism is the possibility of a child having sensory difficulties. These sensory issues can affect how and what a child eats, which may lead to nutritional consequences, including nutrient deficiencies. We are here to help you navigate through your child’s challenges with food and sensory issues to avoid any nutrition related obstacles.
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to be picky eaters because of sensory challenges. There are multiple strategies that may help children with autism possibly overcome some of these obstacles.
- Allow children to play and discover their food1. This can help with desensitizing certain foods because the child will become familiar with the smell and texture of it. Believe it or not but playing with food can actually help to reduce a child’s anxiety around it.
- It is important not to trick your child into eating foods they have difficulties with. Instead, try to introduce a new food by incorporating it with his or her favorite food1. For example, if Bill loves chicken tenders and dislikes carrot sticks, first have him eat the chicken tender, then the carrot stick, and then another chicken tender. This can help to desensitize his relationship to the difficult food with a positive experience.
- Don’t use food as a reward2. Yes of course you want to acknowledge your child’s hard work when it comes to introducing new foods into their diet but when bribing a child with their favorite foods, you can run into a problem.
- Make sure you remain calm when introducing new foods to your child. Remember that children may need to taste a food multiple times before they actually can decide if they like it or not. When particularly working with children with autism spectrum disorders, it is also important to be patient when introducing new foods because specific sensitivities may make it take a little bit longer2.
When introducing new foods to children with autism, it is important to keep in mind that gastrointestinal distress is common for these children. It is important to consult with a doctor if your child is exhibiting any signs or symptoms GI distress.
- Wheeler, Marci. “Indiana University Bloomington.” Mealtime and Children on the Autism Spectrum: Beyond Picky, Fussy, and Fads. Indiana Resource Center for Autism, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
- “Seven Ways to Help a Picky Eater with Autism.” Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks, 7 May 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.