Promoting healthy eating behaviours is vital to your child’s development. Many parents can feel stuck with what to do when their ‘fussy’ child won’t eat. Parents often ask “is my child just picky with food or do they have an actual feeding problem?”
It is common for children to experience mild feeding or eating problems at some stage in their development. Where there are no major medical problems or life events impacting on feeding, problems can often be resolved with professional guidance and strategies.
However, a child with autism spectrum disorder, may present with more severe feeding issues which could be considered beyond just ‘fussy’, such as limiting themselves to five foods, or only eating white foods, smooth foods or a particular brand of food.
There are many different aspects to feeding and it is important to investigate the possible underlying triggers of the behaviours.
Eating is a complex task and requires many skills such as chewing, swallowing, holding food, using utensils, postural skills, muscle strength and tone, regulation of the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, internal sensations), even the ability to try a something new outside of their control, or, make mistakes such as accidentally dropping food. Therefore, it is important to get the right support for your child to develop the necessary skills with feeding.
Tips for parents:
- Allow for some fun.
Keep mealtimes an enjoyable time to learn by making food enticing, even using a mealtime song or colouring activity. Involve your child in the preparation of a meal by measuring, stirring or pouring.
- Ensure your child is comfortable.
Give your child adequate seating and postural support to sit for the duration of a meal. Explore what seating aids work best for your child.
- Let your child play with their food.
Children bring a natural curiosity to their environment, including to food. Allow your child to be a bit messy and refrain from cleaning your child during a meal.
- Observe your diet.
Don’t eat or drink what you don’t want your child to eat or drink. It is important that you are modelling wanted behaviours to your child.
Children on the autism spectrum commonly have food allergies or intolerances, such as to casein in dairy and gluten in wheat. It is worth getting your child allergy-tested, or cutting out certain foods (e.g. Refined sugar) and observing if behaviour challenges or physical symptoms abate with a change in diet.
- Don’t give up.
Patiently allowing your child to try a new food 15-20 times can allow them adequate opportunity to adjust to new tastes, textures and sensations.
This article were originally published in the April 2016 Edition of Haven Magazine.