Written by Therapy Focus Dietitian, Maddie Todd.
Mealtimes can be challenging for parents of children with autism. The following are my top tips for those parents who have to pick their battles when it comes to mealtimes.
1. Offer at least one preferred food at every meal and snack time.
Children with autism need to feel safe and confident that there is something that they can eat at mealtimes. Often when there is not a preferred food or a food that matches a child’s skill level or sensory preferences, they will often refuse to eat at all.
2. Don’t give up on offering a range of foods at mealtimes!
Once you find yourself catering to your child’s specific food preferences, you might find that you get to the point where you can’t offer any other foods without a meltdown. Sometimes new foods need to be offered in a very gradual way to help your child slowly build up their tolerance. A great way to offer exposure to a wide range of foods is through grocery shopping with your child.
Book an appointment with an Accredited Practising Dietitian(APD) to see if there are any nutritional gaps in your child’s diet, which may be impacting the range of foods they’re eating, their food/mealtime behaviours, and growth and development. At Therapy Focus, our Dietitians help manage and prevent poor nutrition in children and adults with disability by supporting their dietary needs. Find out more about our Dietetics service.
3. Build structure into every mealtime.
Building routines can help support children with autism, as they often prefer to know what is expected of them and what is coming next.
4. Seek support as picky eating can be really tricky to manage.
Get a thorough assessment of your child’s eating and drinking skills. Often picky eating is more than the usual ‘fussy eating’ phase that many children experience as part of typical development. An assessment could include chewing and swallowing skills, self-feeding skills, seating and positioning, and continence. All of these things can have a big impact on a child’s diet and mealtimes.