Mealtimes with a special needs child can, for some families, be a stressful experience - for everyone involved! A common issue for many parents and carers, is food throwing. It is worth bearing in mind that sometimes children may throw food for a reaction and the best reaction might be to ignore the behaviour to see if it stops. If you have tried this and are stuck for ideas what to try next, below are five easy steps that you can explore to hopefully help stop this from happening.
1. Rule Out Underlying Medical Conditions
It can be difficult feeding a special needs child for a variety of reasons, but sometimes the reason can be due to an underlying medical issue. With that in mind, it is always best to speak to your GP or paediatrician regarding your child’s eating habits. Your child might be throwing food because they are finding it difficult to communicate their discomfort. A doctor can check whether your child has any gastro-intestinal problems, constipation, allergies, inflammatory and irritable conditions. They can also refer you to a Dietician for advice.
It is also worthwhile booking a routine dental appointment to ensure that your child doesn’t have any oral problems causing them distress.
2. Explore Various Eating Aids
One of the common special needs challenges many parents find is sensory issues. Sensory issues can result in children not liking the appearance, smell or feel of certain foods. If your child has sensory issues it may be beneficial seeking advice from an Occupational Therapist who can provide specific eating aids, which might help, such as weighted and angled cutlery. It is also beneficial to not overload your child’s plate or tray with too much food as this can become overwhelming.
One particular special needs eating aid that SpecialKids company recommends is the Tray Buddi. The Tray Buddi is designed to attach to most highchairs, booster seats, strollers and wheelchairs as long as they have an attachable tray. It can help your child keep their food on the tray and prevent it from going on the floor. The Tray Buddi is easy to wipe clean and is dishwasher safe - something every parent likes to hear!
3. Create a Calm and Patient Atmosphere
Children with special needs can experience anxiety around mealtimes so it is important to try and create a calm atmosphere and be patient with them. You could use PECs or a social story to explain that it is time for a meal and the process around mealtime.
Remember, forcing your child to eat foods that they don’t want to can make their anxiety worse.
If your child needs distractions to help them eat, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes having a distraction such as music, the iPad or something else to hold can help children with sensory issues to eat.
You could also try changing the way that you present the food, for example making food look fun or grating something instead of chopping it up. This can be particularly effective for children who experience sensory processing issues.
4. Have a Routine
Routine is important, particularly for children with autism. As well as social stories and PECs, environmental cues are important for children with special needs. Ideally, you should sit and eat at the table with them, setting an example.
Things like, washing hands, setting the table and sitting together can become a calming ritual to prepare your child mentally for eating. This in turn, could have a positive impact on their behaviour. It might also be beneficial to put a time limit on mealtimes to help communicate that mealtimes are for eating and cut down on any snacks in-between.
5. Seek Advice from a Clinical Psychologist or Behavioural Specialist
If you can’t find the root of the problem, it is worthwhile seeing advice from a Clinical Psychologist or Behavioural Specialist who might be able to offer various tips on how to make your child feel more comfortable around food and stop them from throwing it.
We hope that these suggestions help. It is always worthwhile speaking to other parent carers to see what has worked for them. Please comment and share any suggestions that you have.
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Swimming is a fantastic inclusive activity to do with children with special needs. It’s a great sensory experience that is good fun and has positive benefits for both physical and mental health. It is also an activity that can be done all year round and doesn’t have to be weather dependent (depending on where you choose to swim!).