Most children are fussy when it comes to the food they eat, and trying to implement a healthy diet for your little one can be a challenge. This predicament can be all the more exacerbated when your children are on the autism spectrum. With developmental delays and communication difficulties being large obstacles that can stand between you and your child, adopting a diet that’s best for their learning and developmental needs can be difficult, yet essential.
Common signs and symptoms that your child with autism is not eating optimally include:
Excessive crying or tantrums during mealtimes
Consuming only limited types of food
Poor or excessive weight gain or growth
Frequent vomiting pre- and post-meals
Displays of dislike for mealtime and eating in general
If your child with autism exhibits any of the above and you’re in the midst of searching for “speech therapy for kids near me”, here are 3 immediately actionable steps you can take to encourage your child with autism to eat well and get all the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development:
1. Create and Stick to Regular Mealtime Routines
Children with autism tend to have a liking for routines, which is something you must consider when making changes to their dietary habits and behaviour. One way in which parents and caregivers can better get their autistic child on-board with eating well is to create and stick to regular mealtime routines.
This doesn’t just entail scheduling their meals to be had at the same time each day — though that in itself is an immense help as well — but also creating a mealtime environment that your child with autism can find comfort and predictability in. Parents and caregivers of children with autism should look to:
have all meals consumed at home be at a dedicated dining space
adopt standard meal-time setups for said dining space
clearly establish appropriate seating and dining behaviour and expectations
limit distractions when dining
avoid giving snacks between meals
Doing so can greatly facilitate the treatment of eating issues in children with autism, and support a more ready adoption of dietary changes on their end by meeting the nuanced needs dominant in children within the autism spectrum. Parents and caregivers should also work to find out what the mealtime routines are like in the early intervention school or child therapy centre their children are attending; replicating it at home can make for a much more readily accepted change that may even be welcomed.
2. Consider Sensory-Specific Details
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to encouraging children with autism to eat well. Parents and caregivers of children with autism must also make sure the dietary interventions they make are well curated to their child specifically.
It is important to consider sensory-specific details related to food to better understand the underlying reasons for your child not eating well. However, if your child has not been going to a private speech therapist in Singapore or the likes, they may not explicitly let you in on the details. It’s thus important that you keenly observe their behaviour and deduce their sensory preferences with regards to food:
Sight – It is common for children with autism to be particular about the colour and presentation of their food. Try to narrow down on your child’s aesthetic preferences when it comes to their meals and slowly introduce foods or other mealtime routines that are aligned with their visual preferences.
Smell – Some children that lie on the autism spectrum are more sensitive to smells, and odours they dislike may affect their ability to eat well. Make sure both the meals you prepare and the dining space you allocate them are void of smells that they dislike.
Tactile – A preference for either crunchy or smooth food items is common amongst children with autism. Find out which your child prefers, and try to prepare foods in a way that achieves their preferred texture when making dietary changes. Temperature is also important; your autistic child is highly likely to prefer food that is served at room temperature over that which is too hot or cold. Either way, look out for your child’s specific preferences and adapt your meal preparations accordingly.
Taste – Children with autism tend to favour distinct-tasting foods that fall into just one category of the following: salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Refrain from making too complex-tasting foods for your child with autism unless they display a liking to such foods, and try to prepare food items of their preferred flavour wherever possible.
3. Make Mealtime a Fun Experience
Lastly, you’d also want to make mealtime as fun an experience as possible to encourage your child with autism to eat well. Simple ways to do this include:
providing positive feedback and praise for appropriate eating behaviour
creating post-meal reward systems to reinforce positive eating behaviour
actively engaging or including your child in their own meal preparations
inviting your child to smell, taste, and describe their food and their thoughts about it when eating
Healthy Eating and More at MindChamps Allied Care
At MindChamps Allied Care, we have speech therapists who offer feeding and swallowing therapy as part of our speech therapy programme for new-borns to school-aged children. Our team of experienced speech and occupational therapists are professionally equipped to help children with autism develop age-appropriate feeding skills and more in either a private or group setting.
Check out testimonials from other parents on our various therapy and early intervention services, and book an appointment with us today at the nearest MindChamps Allied Care Child Therapy Centre in Singapore.