Nutrition and ASD
Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have food aversions and sensitivities to certain food colors, textures, flavors, or smells that make mealtimes challenging. Parents many worry their child isn’t getting enough nutritious foods, especially if the child has a strong dislike for entire food groups such as fruits and vegetables. If the child is taking certain medications, appetite may also be affected.
A balanced, nutritious diet can help a child with ASD better regulate their emotions and be in a better frame of mind for learning. However, a child who is a picky eater may not get enough of the vitamins and minerals from food that are necessary for healthy mental and physical development. To avoid making mealtimes a stressful battle of wills, parents can try these tips for introducing new foods or persuading a child to eat a more varied diet:
- Let the child select from several choices to feel in control. For example, if you want the child to eat fruit, offer slices of an orange, apple, or pear and ask which one he wants.
- Encourage the child to mix a new food he may be reluctant to try with a familiar food, a little at a time.
- If the texture of a food is a problem, see if the child can mash up the food item or blend it with another food to make it more palatable.
- Get creative and have fun. Use blueberries and strawberries to make faces on a pancake, or cut the food into fun shapes. The goal is to ease the child’s anxiety and get him more comfortable about eating different foods.
- Let your child pick a favorite food to include at every meal.
- When introducing a new food, choose a food that is most similar to the ones your child prefers. For example, if your child prefers ‘soft’ foods, you can introduce other soft foods such as mashed potatoes.
Because consistency and routines are important for children with ASD, parents should also try to serve meals at the same times each day. The important thing is to avoid trying to force the child to eat, or making mealtimes stressful by arguing with your child. Consider consulting with a dietician or nutritionist about supplements or other recommendations if your child’s eating patterns are extremely restrictive.
Harsha Autism Center provides ongoing care for children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 2-22) with autism to improve the quality of their lives. If you would like learn more about how Harsha Autism Center can help please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (812) 233-8833.