Autism: Mealtime Advice for Parents
For many families, meal times are a way to bond, relax or stay healthy. However, families of children with autism may find meal times, and eating generally, more challenging.
There are many strategies that may help the child to “deal” with potential stressors in a busy kitchen, lik bright lights, different smells, and even the way the furniture is arranged all are potential stressors. Making meals as predictable and routine as possible can help.
Strategies to make mealtimes more ideal:
- Serve meals at the same time every day
- Let your child choose a favorite seat at the table
- Try to keep mealtimes enjoyable and relaxed
- Mealtime hygiene – keep the meal environment clean and clear, provide sensible portions, don’t present too many types of food at once
- Family members should model good eating habits e.g. everybody eats at least one food from each food group everyday
- Ensure a consistent approach from all family members
- Younger children may react well to messy play and making pictures out of food
- Encourage the child to touch, smell, lick and taste new foods and praising these actions even if the new food isn’t tolerated straight-away
Strategies to avoid:
- Too much pressure to eat
- Force feeding or hiding food (which can result in conflict or the loss of trust)
- Reacting negatively if is food spat out (better to praise that the food was tried in the first place)
- Avoid ‘contaminating’ accepted foods with new foods by presenting them on separate plates and starting with a small amount.
- Rewarding “if you eat your broccoli, you can have ice cream.” Though this trick may work as a quick fix, it won’t increase his preference for eating broccoli. Your child may choke down the broccoli to get the reward. Instead, we want kids to enjoy new foods and form more flexible, healthy eating habits.
What is the role of a clinical dietitian in people with autism?
It is very common that children within the autism spectrum can be very specific and particular about the foods they eat. The dietician has the ability to provide you with individualized advice and support to achieve a healthy and balanced diet and the use of any vitamins or mineral supplements (if needed).
Clinical Dietitian- Nutritionist, MSc
Autism Speaks. (2019). Encouraging Picky Eaters with Autism to Try New Foods | Autism Speaks. [online] Available at: https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/encouraging-picky-eaters-autism-try-new-foods [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
eatright.org. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorders and Diet. [online] Available at: https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/autism/nutrition-for-your-child-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].