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Tips for Picky Eating & Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

What is picky eating?

Picky eaters can be referred to as children who only eat certain foods, avoid other foods, and are often unwilling to try new foods.

What can cause picky eating?

Genetic, sensory, physical and/or environmental factors can cause picky eating.

Picky eating and ASD

  • Autism is often associated with food aversions, food sensitivities and ritualistic eating.
  • A child may be responding to sensory aspects of food. i.e: strong flavours, smells, textures or colours.
  • Eating is a social skill which children with ASD may have more difficulty understanding, so the child may not know mealtime expectations.

Supporting healthy eating habits for children with ASD

  1. Rule out physical problems: Make sure your child’s doctor screens for and addresses any issues
  2. Ease into mealtime: Many children with ASD may experience anxiety when it comes to mealtime so it is important to promote relaxation. Providing a verbal warning that indicates to your child that mealtime is coming up shortly can also help them shift their focus and prepare mentally for the upcoming mealtime.
  3. Have mealtime together at the table: Consider using the same table for all meals and have family members sit in the same chairs.
  4. Support your child’s posture: Poor posture which can lead to discomfort. If you see your child is slouching, leaning or wriggling, try placing a rolled up towel around their back and hips to provide support. For foot support, place a stool under their feet to provide extra stability.
  5. Concentrate on the food, not the behaviour: Try to ignore challenging behaviours and divert attention from the negative behaviour with a conversation about the food. This can involve questions to get the whole family involved in “food learning”:
    • What sound does this food make when you chew it?
    • What other foods do we eat that are the same colour?

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