Picky Eater with Autism – How do I get my autistic child to try new food products?

Ditte Young | Author | Therapist | Clairvoyant

I am the mother of an autistic child. He used to have normal eating habits when he was young. His neurologist thought he was too skinny, so she ordered him to eat certain food to make him gain more weight. I didn’t know he was on the autism spectrum back then, so of course, I followed the doctors’ orders. After only 2 months of certain food products, he became in my way of seeing it – a picky eater. I had to spend many years figuring out how to introduce new foods to him again or certain foods he used to like.

Many years later it became apparent to me that making him eat new food he liked and making him choose had to have had severe consequences in the long run…  after finding out he was an autistic child. It became clear to me that when it comes to his mealtime behavior, it wasn’t so different from anything else in his life. He needed things to be recognizable and easy to digest.

And that’s when I figured out how to approach picky eating because of many other problems that followed with having an autistic child.

Why won’t my autistic child eat?

First, I had to figure out if my son was developed in his mouth, stomach, and intestinal system to be able to digest the new food products I wanted to introduce him to. It was very frustrating to me since he had normal mealtime behaviors prior to the visit to the neurologist. A physiotherapist can help you to figure out if your child suffers from refluxes or has disabilities with the mouth, stomach, and intestinal system.

If your child is late in the development of those areas, that could be the main reason for your child to become a picky eater when it comes to the meals you serve or introducing your child to new food products.

What do kids with autism eat?

Many autistic children I know of are picky eaters because the food they take in needs to be recognizable to them as well. The food needs to have a firm content for most children with an autism spectrum disorder to be able to digest it and taste it. The more recognizable the new food is the better for an autistic child. That is why I don’t think the children on the autism spectrum are truly picky eaters. I think it is too difficult for them to have positive behavior when it comes to new food products they don’t know. As for so many other situations most, autistic children have resilience towards new things in general.

If you consider food as a component then imagine that the firmer the meal is, the easier it is for autistic children to find it recognizable.

Most children in the autism spectrum prefer crunchy food products such as French fries, nuggets, salty crackers, chips, or other food products that have a crunchy food structure. Since most of these food products as mentioned are high in oil and salt, children on the autism spectrum don’t have to work hard to swallow, taste, or digest these food products.
The eating habits become a routine for children with autism spectrum disorders too and quickly they know what kind of food products will not overstimulate their inner system as well.

Crunchy food products often liked by autistic children

  • French Fries
  • Nuggets
  • Salty crackers
  • Chips

What kind of food do kids with autism dislike?

If you start to look at the children with autisms mealtime behavior as food selectivity instead of picky eating, then life gets easier for your child and you as well. Then you can create room and space to introduce new food products to the child with autism instead of being frustrated and feel like a failure every single time dinner is served.

Most children with autism who are being interpreted as picky eaters, dislike new food products that will overstimulate them and they don’t know. Many parents will very much prefer their children to taste new food, regardless of if they have children with autism or not which I am very supportive of. If you look at the food as a component then imagine a cracker is a one food component, since it consists of the same on the inside as on the outside.

The food selectivity is easily solved by looking at the mealtime behavior as a big part of the autism spectrum, rather than picky eating.

If you look at most “normal functioning children” they prefer to separate their foods too. Many of these children seem as if they have food selectivity as well if the parents don’t understand that their mouth isn’t developed enough to differ between the different tastes and structures in the food. Meat has one structure; a potato has another structure in the mouth and a carrot has a third structure and feeling in the mouth. Besides it tastes differently it also feels different.

That is the reason for many children with autism dislike food products that varies too much such as a cucumber or tomatoes. Imagine what it feels like inside of the mouth of your autistic child who senses the world more extremely than you do and she or he bites in a tomato. First, we have the tomato skin, then the tomato flesh and then there is water and tomato seeds in there. That is the main reason for the food selectivity I see amongst many of the children within the autism spectrum.

Should I force my autistic child to eat?

I would never force an autistic child to eat. Remember that your child is sensitive most of the time and will remember a situation combined with an emotion and store it in the nervous system and in the brain. If the energy and emotions around a child is an emotion of the child is wrong or misbehaving due to the parents are interpreting her or him as picky eating, your child will remember that situation and will easily develop food selectivity. Then the situation is not simply about the food products and the resilience to take in new food products anymore, but also a matter of the emotion your child senses from you as a parent. This way of seeing picky eating is also useful for many other children and their parents who aren’t within the autism spectrum.

How to solve picky eating with my autistic child?

I will recommend you look at food products your autistic child prefers or like. Your child will eat something at one point and not starve to death. Maybe your child will only eat toast bread? Maybe your child is so food selective so she or he only eats the same thing three times a day.

The journey from toast bread to eating spaghetti Bolognese is way too long. Imagine that the bread is a one component food product because it consists of the same on the inside as on the outside. The toast bread becomes predictable and easy to swallow or digest for your child. I recommend you turn down your ambitions and help your child to slowly being able to take in harder bread or toppings on the toast bread at first. You can start to put a very small number of toppings on a little piece of the bread. That could be butter or another topping that is spreadable.

If your child like one spread, then you can slowly put more of that spread on the toast, and that development can take weeks or months before your autistic child will accept it. Your child’s system needs time to get to know the new emotion, smell, and structure of the food. When your child can eat toast with spread on it, then you can take it to the next step and try to put a little piece of ham or cheese on top of one of the sides on the toast bread. I believe that all children need to feel successful. They sense immediately if you put a pressure on their mealtime habits, so it is important that you are relaxed too while helping your child with new food habits.

If you want to know more about this topic feel free to check out my online course “How to make your child eat a variety of food”

Best wishes to you,
Ditte Young ❤️

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