Risa watched as her son grabbed handfuls of pretzels and slowly ate each one. Smells of Thanksgiving dinner came through the room and everyone was looking forward to sitting down to turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and all the fixings that went with the holiday meal. Everyone, that is except for Mark, Risa's son. She could sometimes get him to eat a slice of turkey and a biscuit on Thanksgiving but usually it was pretzels, nuts and an apple.
Risa's Aunt Mary came and stood beside her, "You shouldn't let him eat so many pretzels, he won't be hungry for dinner."
"It's okay, he wouldn't eat dinner anyway, he doesn't like Thanksgiving dinner."
"Well, we would have to sit at the table until we finished our meal!" Aunt Mary began to lecture.
"I would be sitting here till next week." Risa replied. She knew her aunt meant well but didn't understand anything about autism. Today was a holiday and she would let Mark eat what he wanted, even if that meant he was going to fill up on pretzels. She wasn't interested in meltdowns today. Tomorrow she would worry about nutrition.
Children with autism and Asperger's syndrome are notorious for being picky eaters. Sensory issues may be one cause. A child often finds certain textures or smells to be extremely unpleasant or even painful and will avoid certain foods. Many have favorite foods they eat every day, at every meal. While many parent s worry whether their child is getting adequate nutrition, a study completed at the University of Bristol showed that there was "no significant difference in energy intake or overall carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption" and height and weight in autistic children with limited food preferences and children without autism were similar. ["Is Picky Eating an Early Sign of Autism?" 2010, Park, TimeHealth]
Some experts believe that food selectivity may be an early warning sign for autism. Being a picky eater alone doesn't necessarily point toward autism, however, it may be a sign that parents and medical professionals need to take a closer look at other behaviors, such as lack of social interaction, little desire to play with toys in the same way as other children, rigid thinking or other hypersensitivities, to see if additional warning signs of autism are present.
While picky eaters usually grow at normal rates, parents can help their child. The following are some tips for dealing with food selectivity in children with autism or Asperger's syndrome:
- If your child prefers a certain texture, for example, Mark preferred foods that were crunch like pretzels, nuts or apples, find new foods that share the same texture. If your child likes only smooth foods, such as applesauce, try pureeing vegetables and introduce the taste that way.
- Use favorite foods as motivators. Give your child a new food to try and assure him he will be able to have his favorite food after he takes one bite of the new food. Be careful, though, not to withhold food if your child refuses to try the new food.
- Make a game of trying new foods. Have different foods available and have the family have a "food tasting" party.
- Use flavors your child likes to "hide" the taste of new foods. For example, your child might be willing to try new foods if ketchup is on top. It doesn't matter if you don't think ketchup goes well with string beans, if he is willing to eat vegetables with ketchup on top, let him.
- Talk to your child's occupational or behavioral therapists about desensitization. This is a technique that gradually introduces new foods to help your child become desensitized to an unpleasant texture, smell or taste.
It is important for you, as a parent, to not become frustrated or angry at your child because of their food sensitivities or food selectivity. Find your child's favorite foods and try to find some common foods that share the taste or texture. Experiment with new foods. If you are concerned about your child getting the proper nutrition, talk to your doctor about working with a nutritionist.
"Food Selectivity and Sensory Sensitivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders," 2010, Feb, S.A. Cermak, C. Curtin, L.G. Bandini, Journal of American Diet Association
"Fussy Eaters and Autism," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Autism-Help.org
"Is Picky Eating an Early Sign of Autism?" 2010, July 19, Alice Park, TimeHealth
Published On: November 07, 2011