Common eating issues related to Autism
The purpose of nutrition in people with autism spectrum is to eliminate the symptoms of allergies, improve gastrointestinal disorders, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, reduced intake of essential fatty acids or amino acids and generally provide adequate nutrition.
Below you there are the most common eating issues related to the autism spectrum and strategies to deal with them.
Limited food selection or strong food dislikes
People within the autism spectrum may be sensitive to the taste, smell, color and texture of different foods. They may limit or totally avoid some foods and even whole food groups. Common dislikes: fruits, vegetables and greasy, soft foods.
A food jag is defined as the persistence on eating the same food in the same manner over long periods of time. Food jags limit opportunities for the resistant eater to experience new foods and have a balanced diet.
Not eating enough food
Kids with autism may have difficulty focusing on one task for an extended period of time. It may be hard for a child to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish, hence/ and this lead to reduced food intake.
Extreme faddy eating
People within the autism spectrum may have one or more of the following problems by consuming a specific diet that can lead to extreme faddy eating.
It is usually caused by a child’s limited food choices. It typically can be remedied through a high-fiber diet, plenty of fluids and regular physical activity.
- Medication interactions
Some stimulant medications used in autism may lower or increase appetite. This can modify the amount of food a child eats, which can affect growth.
- Micronutrient Deficiencies
Severe autism is associated with lower levels of calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 and D. Correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children with autism using appropriate supplements is advised as a first line treatment.
Strategies to improve eating habits and variety
Parents are frequently worried about the health status of their children, which may be threatened by some consequent nutritional deficiencies.
Approach them outside of the kitchen
Taking your child to the supermarket can be productive and educational, let him choose a new food. When you get home, research it together on the internet to learn about where it grows. Then, decide together how to prepare it. When you are done, don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to eat it. Simply becoming familiar with new foods in a low-pressure, positive way eventually can help your child become a more flexible eater.
If you’re making your child’s favorite macaroni and cheese for dinner, tell him that tonight he should add one secret ingredient for other family members to guess or discover during the meal. He gets to choose: turkey, broccoli or tomatoes?
Provide healthy options
It’s also important to give them some choices so they can feel in control of their meals. Instead of demanding that he eats peas, give him three choices: peas, carrots or salad. This approach also helps children know that it’s okay to have preferences around food (we all have at least one food we don’t like to eat!), but the variety in diet is the most important.
Preference in utensils/plates/colours
Extra consideration may be needed to account for sensory preferences like: specific cutlery or utensils, foods of specific colors or textures and overall food presentation. Think about the shape, colour and material of the spoon.
Hyper or hypo auditory
Some children find it difficult to eat in a noisy atmosphere, but others eat better when there is music or a video playing in the background. If a child is hyper-auditory it is a good idea to limit the noise in the dining room by closing windows.
Mixed foods and textures
Children with autism often dislike mixed textures, such as milk and cereal together or omelet with veggies, so may prefer to have these presented separately.
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].