Many autistic children have problems with food. The difficulties are varied but will habitually reduce to:
- Unwillingness to try new foods: Children with autism may prefer to eat always the same type of food and are less likely to want to try new things compared to their peers.
- Refusal to eat certain foods: Children with autism sometimes refuse to eat a certain texture, color, or flavor of food. There are some cases where they refuse to mix foods and refuse to eat food that has touched something else.
Occupational therapists sometimes use food to play with children and encourage them to try new foods by first getting them to look at them, smell them, touch them, and take a few bites. As a caretaker, you can also try to present foods in creative ways to spark their interest.
Consequences of eating difficulties
Although it’s easier to prepare food according to your child’s preference, it’s not a good idea. There are severe consequences of following the patterns. Below you have the most common ones.
Significant weight loss
Sometimes children experience a significant weight loss as a result of an unbalanced diet. That impacts the overall development of their health, physical and mental. If you notice your child has lost some weight in a short time, consult the family doctor or dietitian as soon as possible.
Lack of energy
When there is low consumption of carbohydrates (found in foods with flowers, nuts, legumes, and fruits), the levels of energy start dropping. That is because some foods only serve to satiate our hunger, but don’t contribute to energy. For example, although soup reduces hunger, it doesn’t give any energy.
Children who experience chronic eating issues may develop stomach complications. A lack of fiber, for example, will make the child more likely to be constipated. That adds to already low energy and possible behavior issues.
If your child is mainly eating snacks, this can result in a rapid weight gain. Snacks are often high on sugar, and too much intake can lead to overweight, constipation, and disturbed sleep patterns.
Patterns have the option to consult a certified dietitian who can help them engage their child in a healthy diet. An occupational therapist will be more adequate if you’re looking to set up food play or find ways to encourage your child to try new foods.
6. Common Eating Difficulties and Solutions
Below you have a list of common problems, accompanied by popular solutions. If you’re struggling a lot, or are worried about your child’s health, seek help from professionals.
Restrictive choice of food
A child is highly selective in what she eats. She doesn’t want any fruit and refuses to eat anything that has sugar.
In this case, it’s less concerning compared to other children who only eat food from one or two categories. For example, some autistic children only eat meat. However, the caretaker is concerned about the food intake, the best thing to do would be to consult a doctor or dietitian and seek professional help. They will be able to tell if this habit is truly worrying or not.
Selective with Utensils
A child refuses to eat with anything that’s not a spoon. He doesn’t use forks, knife, or anything else.
Giving child children utensils could help since they are easier to use. However, some children may refuse even this kind of utensils. If that’s the case, and the problem prolongs over time, an occupational therapist can develop an efficient plan or even customized cluttery for the child.
Problem with food textures
A child selects all the food they eat exclusively based on the texture of them. They prefer crunchy foods, such as biscuits or apples. They also refuse to eat anything with a similar texture to jam.
The caretaker could start taking notes of what the child prefers to it and try to find any patterns. Try to find consistencies and prepare food that in the way that the child likes.
Selective with food color
A child has several preferences for certain types of colors. He prefers to eat green and yellow foods. He also refuses to eat anything red, since he doesn’t like that color.
Red is a common color, which results in a limiting diet. A health professional should be consulted to ensure the child is healthy. If the caretaker wanted to remove the limitation, an Occupational Therapist would be best.
Prolonged eating time
A child takes excessively long to finish a meal. She gets distracted by the environment and regularly stops eating after a single bite. She needs constant reminders to take another bite and finish the meal.
The best thing is to consult an Occupational Therapist or family doctor if you have concerns about how long it takes your child to finish his or her meal.