According to an academic study by researchers at the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University School of Medicine, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as tantrums, extreme food sensitivity and ritualistic eating behaviours. They also identified that children with ASD were more likely to have a lower intake of calcium and protein.
While not all children with ASD may have a problem with fussy-eating, some may do for a number reasons:
Sensory sensitivities: Children with ASD can be more sensitive than others to environmental stimuli, including noise, light, clothing or temperature. This can also apply to food, with preferences to eat food of certain textures, or colours.
Routines: Routines create stability and order for people with ASD. This can translate into only wanting to eat the same food at the same time every day. Children with ASD often find trying new food difficult.
Preoccupations: Children with ASD often develop intense fields of interest in a particular area. If this applies to a specific food, you will have a fight on your hands if you want them to give it up!
Strategies to Encourage a Varied Diet
It’s an old trick – but disguising vegetables and baking them into something your child really loves can actually work. For example, a savoury muffin or a pizza.
Be patient. Allow your child time to get used to a new food over the course of a few meals. Give them a chance to lick or sniff the food and assimilate it. Children with ASD often need extra time to familiarise themselves with something new.
Reward also tends to work a lot better than punishment. Praise your child when they eat a new food, or keep a reward tracking chart.
Keep a routine with meal times. Routines play an important role in the lives of people with ASD. Eating at the same time and the same place every day can make them feel more comfortable, and thus more inclined to try a new food.
Finally, a behavioural therapist or skilled carer can help you understand and manage your child’s eating behaviour better. Zest Care has been providing tailored education and care for families in their homes for over 16 years. Government funding is available for children with ASD – find out today if you are eligible and about how one of Zest Care’s professional Educarers can help.