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Autism & Diet: How To Meet Your Child’s Nutritional Needs

Pre-teen sitting at the table pouting and turning away with arms crossed while refusing to eat a fried egg being served to them..

Written by: Joshua Sleeper

Autism Spectrum & Diet Tips

Many individuals with autism have aversions to certain types of food or food sensitivities, which can make it more challenging for them to follow a healthy diet. In fact, a 2006 study revealed that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refuse significantly more foods and have a less varied diet than their peers.1 If mealtime tends to be a battleground for your family, try these 6 tips and talk to your Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy team about in-home therapy. By practicing new skills in a familiar environment with the support of an experienced autism therapist, your child may be able to expand their diet over time.

Read More: A Parent’s Guide To In-home ABA Therapy

1. Rule Out Food Allergies

Your child’s resistance to certain foods may not be based on the foods’ flavor or texture. If your child has an unknown food intolerance or allergy, certain foods may upset their stomach. However, children with autism may not be able to describe this reaction or connect their discomfort with the food. Before starting a new food program, consult your pediatrician to rule out any allergies or sensitivities.

2. Explore Food Together

Wondering how to get your child with autism to try new foods? Take baby steps to get your child more comfortable by exploring food together. Start by looking at the food and then move on to smelling or touching the food together. Experiment with the look and feel of foods by touching them or making interesting shapes with them. Your child may or may not eat the foods she’s exploring, and that’s okay. The idea is to get your child more comfortable with unfamiliar foods. 

3. Sit Together At Meals

Just as building a nighttime routine can help your child ease into sleep, having a mealtime routine can help your child become more comfortable with eating. To build this routine, start by having your child sit at the table with you or another family member for a few minutes at a time. Give them praise and small rewards to build a positive association with mealtime. As your child becomes more comfortable, gradually increase their time at the table . 

4. Try New Takes On Preferred Foods

Pairing a new food with an old favorite may help your child overcome their aversion. For example, if your child loves plain spaghetti with no sauce, try stretching his food tolerance by trying a different brand of spaghetti. Then, try whole-wheat or another type of noodle. Keep changes small to give your child time to become comfortable.  

5. Give Choices

Forcing your child to eat a certain food or vegetable will likely end with a battle at the dinner table. Avoid the argument by giving your child options. For example, instead of requesting your child try a bite of broccoli, let her choose between broccoli, peas, and salad. 

6. Get Creative With Textures

Some kids with autism may have sensory issues with food textures. For example, some children may not like that cherry tomatoes or grapes “explode” in their mouth. In these cases, experiment with cutting up the vegetable or blending it with other textures to make it more appealing. 

Food aversions are relatively common for children with autism, and can have a huge effect on every member of the family. Trumpet’s team of skilled and empathetic autism therapists are here to help your child decrease challenging behaviors, including those around mealtimes. For more information on how Trumpet can help your child eat a healthy diet, contact us today. 

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16043324/

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