I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the years about how to teach autistic children to eat right.
I am not an expert on autism. Nor am I an expert on raising special needs children. (Remember, I’m a sociologist.) However, I have worked with, and presented workshops to, parents of children who have special needs.
This is what I know for sure: autistic children (and children who are on the autistim spectrum) have the same range of eating issues as children who aren’t.
Their eating issues are sometimes more extreme (which makes them more challenging). The problems are almost always more obvious. (So they are easier to identify.)
If you have a feeding issue with your child:
1) Always make sure there is not a medical issue causing the feeding problem
2) Create a strong feeding structure which makes feeding decisions predictable.
This will transfer your child’s need for routine from knowing exactly what food she will eat to knowing exactly how eating decisions are made. Remember, children don’t like it when decisions feel arbitrary.
3) Communicate your feeding goals CLEARLY
Surprises are your enemy. If new foods is your goal then make sure that you tell your child that you would like him to learn how to be comfortable tasting new foods.Then, reassure him that you’ll never make him eat anything he doesn’t want to eat.
4) Break your goal down into the smallest, doable steps you can imagine
I once talked to a woman who was having trouble moving her son off of a feeding tube because he was resistant to the idea of putting food in his mouth.
Want to know the first step? Getting him used to being in the presence of a plate of food. That’s right. This boy needed to feel comfortable and SAFE around a plate of food so we practiced sitting at the table, first with an empty plate, then with plate with some food.
Read Nix YOUR Negativity.
5) Constantly look for and eliminate PRESSURE
One way to do this is to SHARE control. One woman’s child had agreed, at least in concept, to eat ice cream with blueberries instead of just plain ice cream. This was a big step.
We eliminated pressure by eliminating the parent/child interactions. We put the prepared ice cream in the refrigerator (she didn’t want the blueberries to be frozen) and the child ate the ice cream when she was ready.
Two books I recommend:
Just Take a Bite: Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges!
Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~