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. The child must feel safe and confident that there is something that they can eat at the mealtime. Often when there is not a preferred food or a food that matches the child’s skill level or sensory preferences, the child 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 assist a child to slowly build up their tolerance.
3. Offer exposure to a wide range of foods through grocery shopping.
4. See an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to see if there are any nutritional gaps in the diet which may be impacting their range of foods eaten, food/mealtime behaviours and growth and development. Find out more about our dietetics services.
5. Build structure into every mealtime. Building routines can help to support children with autism as they often prefer to know what is expected of them and what is coming next.
6. Seek some 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 their typical development. An assessment could include chewing and swallowing skills, self-feeding skills, seating and positioning and continence. All of these areas can have a big impact on a child’s diet and mealtimes.
Learn more about what Therapy Focus dietitians do.