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Autism Feeding Strategies: A Parent’s Guide

Feeding problems are commonly observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In fact, the estimated prevalence of feeding problems in children with autism has been reported to be as high as 90 percent, with nearly 70 percent of children described as selective eaters. 

This means that a significant number of individuals with autism may experience difficulties when it comes to accepting a variety of tastes, textures, and temperatures of foods due to sensitivity issues.

To help with that, we have prepared this simple yet comprehensive guide that includes feeding strategies for autistic individuals.

How to Address Feeding Difficulties in Autism

Feeding difficulties can be a common challenge for individuals with autism. Addressing these difficulties requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account the unique needs and sensitivities of individuals on the spectrum. 

Here, we’re going to look at several key strategies for addressing feeding difficulties among autistic individuals.

Medical Considerations

When an autistic child exhibits extreme food selectivity, it is important to consider any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the difficulties. Seeking advice from a pediatrician or healthcare professional can help rule out issues such as food allergies or constipation, which may impact a child’s eating habits. 

By addressing these medical concerns, it becomes possible to devise a more effective feeding plan and provide appropriate support.

autism feeding strategies

Gradual Introduction of New Foods

Introducing new foods to children with autism should be approached gradually and systematically. A step-by-step process can help familiarize the child with the food and reduce anxiety around trying something new. 

The progression can involve various stages, such as smelling, licking, touching, and finally tasting the food. By allowing the child to explore the food at their own pace, they can gradually become more comfortable with unfamiliar textures, tastes, and smells.

Building Food Variety

Building food variety for individuals with autism involves strategies that respect their unique preferences and sensitivities. One effective approach is to pair new foods with ones that the child already enjoys. This can help create positive associations and increase the likelihood of acceptance. 

Allowing the child some sense of control in their food choices, such as offering options within a certain category, can also facilitate their willingness to try new foods.

Minimizing pressure during mealtimes is crucial when addressing feeding difficulties. By creating a supportive and relaxed environment, individuals with autism can feel more comfortable exploring new foods. It’s important to remember that expanding food variety should be done at the child’s own pace, without forcing or rushing the process. Patience and understanding are key when helping individuals with autism build their food repertoire.

Mealtime Behavior Tips

Children with autism may face challenges with attention and focus during mealtimes, which can result in inadequate consumption of calories and nutrients. Here are some mealtime behavior tips to help address this:

  • Ease into mealtimes – Start by easing into the mealtime routine to reduce anxiety. This can be done by establishing a predictable schedule and providing visual cues or social stories to help the child understand what to expect.
  • Sit together at a table – Encourage the child to sit together at a table for meals. This not only establishes a routine but also encourages imitation. Children with autism often learn from observing others, so seeing others eat can help them feel more comfortable and willing to try new foods.
  • Support posture – Provide proper support for the child’s posture during meals. This can be achieved through the use of appropriate seating or adaptive equipment. Supporting their posture helps them focus on eating and can improve their overall mealtime experience.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is essential when it comes to improving nutrition for children with autism. Here are some strategies to consider:

autism feeding strategies

By implementing these mealtime behavior tips and creating a supportive environment, parents and caregivers can help children with autism improve their nutrition and expand their diet variety at their own pace. 

Remember, patience is key when implementing these activities. It may take time for individuals with autism to feel comfortable with new foods and textures. By creating a positive and non-pressuring mealtime environment and incorporating fun food exploration activities, parents and caregivers can support individuals with autism in developing a healthier and more varied diet.

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