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Mealtime tips for children with autism

Mealtime tips for children with autism

Mealtimes for children with autism can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be unable to traverse the meal with relative ease. By following some common tips, you can be able to make breakfast, lunch, or dinner a breeze.

Here are several important mealtime tips for children with autism:

  • Don’t make any sudden changes to their mealtime
  • Gradual exposure to foods is better than sudden modifications to diet
  • Relax your child before mealtime
  • Consult with experts
  • Be sure to monitor and support posture during mealtimes

There are several other important tips as well which will be covered further along in the article. These tips will also be expanded upon, but keep in mind that by following these tips and making sure you don’t rush anything, you can make mealtime a joy for your child with autism.

Feeding a child with autism can be challenging, and with these tips we hope to make mealtime more enjoyable for you and your family.

The best mealtime tips for children with autism

  • Pacing - One of the most important tips to improve mealtime for your child with autism is to focus on the pacing of any changes. Keep in mind that children with autism will deal with changes differently than other people. Because of this, it’s best to introduce them to new foods slowly. Success doesn’t have to be in a day - it can be gradual.
  • Relax - Another important aspect of mealtime is to relax beforehand. If your child has difficulty or if their mealtime is causing resistance - playing, reading, or engaging in other disarming activities before a meal can help solve this issue. Realistically, this activity will vary depending on the child, but it’s important to note that whatever activity calms them down the most efficiently is usually the best.
  • Play - Another important thing to remember is that it’s not a negative thing to use food play if this helps your child. Keep in mind that a child with autism may engage better with their dinner if it is viewed as a fun activity. What this means is that by having your child focused on the food, they can enjoy a successful dinner. Some ways to do this may be playing pretend, making the food “move”, or other dinnertime activities.
  • Consult - It’s also important to always consult with medical professionals when you’re deciding exactly how to formulate mealtimes. These experts are trained in dealing with children with autism, so they’re able to suggest activities and techniques which may improve your child’s mealtime success even further, such as setting a schedule. Although experts are by no means the “end-all” for managing your family breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they have crucial information that you definitely do not want to miss out on and can incorporate for supporting your child.
  • Posture - Finally, posture is a big aspect of mealtime with your children. Keep in mind that children with autism may struggle with their posture, so ensuring that your child has the proper posture before, during, and after a meal can be extremely important and helpful in making mealtime more enjoyable. This can be done by changing the seating, adding or removing pillows and cushions, and more.

Why do children with autism have a hard time eating

Although the factors ultimately vary depending on the child, many of the reasons that a child with autism will have trouble eating are solved by the tips mentioned above.

Some common issues include: 

  • Postural issues
  • Sensory processing overloads or deficits
  • Issues with the texture, smell, flavor, and other aspects. 

If your child is struggling with mealtimes there will usually be some adjustments you can make in order to make it easier.

Mealtime challenges can be difficult for your child and family. Through trial and error and through the help of consulting a professional, you can find the root causes of the issues.

Teaching a child with autism to feed themselves

If your child is struggling to feed themselves, you don’t have to worry or become stressed in this situation. Keep in mind that this is not a developmental problem, and simply is another aspect of a challenge to overcome.

There are several common ways to teach and assist a child with autism in feeding themselves, such as:

  • Giving your child bite-sized foods and only a few pieces of food at a time, which allows your child to manage their food easier.
  • Another technique you can implement is allowing your child to first become acquainted with eating with their hands before proceeding to teaching them how to use forks, knives, and other utensils.
  • It’s important to realize as well that children with autism may restrict their food range to a very limited number of foods - in some cases, only several. Because of this, trying different foods may also improve the chances that your child learns to feed themselves independently.

How to help a child with autism try new foods

Helping a child with autism try new food is reliant heavily upon the manner in which the food is introduced. Ultimately, introducing the food in a manner that is jarring or creates a negative mental reaction in your child is going to shut down their acceptance of that food.

Because of this, it’s best to gradually introduce that food, often with other foods which the child is already positively associated with. By doing so, you can help your child open themselves up to this new food and begin to enjoy eating it as time progresses.

Patience is key in this instance, of course. It’s important to manage expectations and not expect results quickly, but with time and the proper methods, you’ll have a greater chance of seeing the results you want.

Final words

It's important to remember that these mealtime tips for children with autism can help your child through a tough time - whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

No matter the meal, the same fundamental tips still apply. 

Patience is important, and introducing new foods slowly will help with the acceptance of those foods. Posture can be extremely crucial in the result of mealtimes and relaxing your child before mealtime can allow them to more easily focus on their meal.

In the end, it’s always important to remember that when you’re in doubt about any implementation of techniques, mealtimes, or simply have questions about your child and their reaction to certain foods, seeking the advice of an expert is one of the best things you can do. 

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