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How to introduce new foods to an autistic child

How to introduce new foods to an autistic child

September 27, 2022

If you have no autism awareness, you may think that children with autism are picky eaters. However, those of us who know a child with autism and food aversion know that this simply isn’t the case. Sensory issues: the smell, touch, texture or colour of food, for example – can make it near impossible for a child to look at, be around or try certain foods. The thought of doing so can make them feel or be sick, be overwhelmed, anxious and cause great distress. Some children prefer to eat only beige food. Some like food that only is dry or wet. Every child is different.

Introducing new foods to an autistic child can be a trial-and-error process. Once you have excluded any medical problems, such as gastrointestinal issues, that might be impacting on their eating habits, you need to be led by your child and not put any pressure on them. In this blog, we will give you suggestions that might help you during the process.

 

Be patient, calm and take one step at a time.

They say that it can take a child 12 times to taste a new food before eating it. It is then no surprise that a child with autism can take a lot longer. Ask your child if there is anything that they would like to try. If not, to begin with aim for foods that don’t have a strong smell or unusual texture.

You need to be patient and calm and not put too much pressure on your child. To begin with they might only be willing to touch the food. Remember, for a child who is hypersensitive this is great progress. Perhaps next they will move to simply licking it or putting it near their lips. Give them time and space to explore a new food and don’t overcrowd their plate.

If you have tried a certain food item over numerous times, consider the fact that they simply might not like it!

 

Get creative with food presentation

Get creative and allow your child to play with food. By this we mean getting messy, if necessary, allowing them to squish the food with their fingers or a fork or spoon. 

You can make faces with food items, such as fruit and vegetables. If your child likes dipping, you could include some dips to try dunking the food into.

 

 

Consider the plates and cutlery that you use

Some children with autism don’t like their foods mixing or touching with each other. It might be best to not have too much on a plate or to use a divider plate, which you can find quite easily in lots of shops or online.

If your child doesn’t like touching food, use cutlery. It might be that they will benefit from angled cutlery or weighted cutlery, which can help with grip and dexterity issues.


Think about ways to get around textures

If your child is hypersensitive to certain textures, dry or wet foods think about ways to make this easier for them. Chopping and blending food might help to alter the texture enough for them to be able to tolerate it.


Offer them choice and let them get involved with making their food

Offer your child lots of different choices so that they have a broad variety of foods to choose from. If your child feels involved in the process, they might feel less pressure. You can also get them to help you cook.


Give lots of praise but be cautious to reward

Give your child lots of praise for trying new things, even if they take the smallest step or don’t like them. Trying can be a huge effort and it’s important that they are recognised for doing this.

Sometimes things like reward charts or treats can be helpful if they motivate your child, however, be careful because the main goal is for your child to enjoy what they eat and understand that a balanced diet is a good thing to have.



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