⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Leave A Review | The #1 Choice for ABA Therapy

Autism and Picky Eating & Food Aversions

Children with autism may have a limited range of foods they are willing to eat, and may refuse to eat certain textures, colors, or smells. In this article, we will explore the facts about autism and picky eating.

mark elias
Mark Elias
October 31, 2023

Understanding Autism And Picky Eating

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. One of the common behavioral traits associated with autism is picky eating.

Why Do Children With Autism Have Picky Eating Habits?

There is no clear answer to this question, but researchers believe that the sensory processing issues associated with autism may play a role.

Children with autism may be hypersensitive to certain tastes, textures, and smells, making it difficult for them to tolerate certain foods. They may also have difficulty with the motor skills required for eating, such as chewing and swallowing.

How Does Picky Eating Affect Children With Autism?

Picky eating can have negative effects on a child's health and well-being. Children with autism who have limited diets may not be getting the nutrients they need for growth and development.

They may also be at risk for nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to health problems such as anemia, weakened immune system, and delayed growth.

In addition, picky eating can also affect a child's social life.

Children with autism may have difficulty eating in social situations, such as at school or at a friend's house. They may feel embarrassed or anxious about their eating habits, which can lead to social isolation and low self-esteem.

Children with autism may experience challenges when it comes to eating. Some children may have difficulty with the social aspects of eating, such as understanding table manners or engaging in conversation while eating.

Others may have difficulty coordinating the movements required for self-feeding, such as using utensils or bringing food to their mouth.

In addition, some children with autism may have a heightened sensitivity to certain foods, textures, and smells. This can lead to selective or restrictive eating habits where they only eat certain foods or avoid certain textures altogether.

In some cases, this can result in a limited diet that does not provide all the necessary nutrients for growth and development.

It's important for parents and caregivers of children with autism to work with healthcare professionals to develop strategies that can help address these issues.

This may involve working with a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who can provide guidance on improving feeding skills and sensory integration. It may also involve working with a registered dietitian who can help ensure that the child is getting all the necessary nutrients despite any dietary restrictions.

Picky Eating Strategies & Tips

There are several strategies that parents can use to help their children with autism and picky eating. These include:

  • Introducing new foods gradually: Parents can introduce new foods slowly and in small amounts, so that the child can get used to the taste and texture.
  • Making food fun: Parents can make food more appealing by presenting it in a fun and creative way. For example, they can cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes, or make a game out of trying new foods.
  • Using positive reinforcement: Parents can praise their child for trying new foods, even if they don't like them. This can help build the child's confidence and encourage them to try new things in the future.
  • Seeking professional help: If picky eating is causing significant problems for the child, parents may want to seek the help of a professional, such as a registered dietitian or a feeding therapist.

Coping Strategies for Parents

Parenting a child with autism who is also a picky eater can be challenging, but there are coping strategies that can help make mealtimes less stressful. Here are some tips for parents:

  • Be patient: It may take time for your child to become comfortable with new foods. Try not to get frustrated if they refuse to eat something or have a tantrum at the dinner table.
  • Create a routine: Establishing a predictable mealtime routine can help your child feel more secure and less anxious about eating. Try to serve meals at the same time every day, and create a calm and relaxing atmosphere at the table.
  • Involve your child in food preparation: Children with autism may be more willing to try new foods if they have been involved in preparing them. Let your child help you wash fruits and vegetables, stir ingredients, or set the table.
  • Offer choices: Giving your child choices can help them feel more in control and reduce their anxiety about eating. For example, you could offer them two different vegetables to choose from for dinner.
  • Use visual aids: Some children with autism respond well to visual aids such as picture cards or charts that show what foods will be served at each meal. This can help them prepare mentally for mealtimes and reduce their anxiety.
  • Seek support: Connecting with other parents who have children with autism and picky eating habits can provide emotional support and helpful tips. Consider joining an online support group or attending local parent meetings.

Remember that every child is unique, so what works for one family may not work for another. Be patient, flexible, and open-minded as you work together to find strategies that work best for your family.

The Relationship Between GI Issues and Picky Eating

Recent studies have suggested that there may be a link between gastrointestinal (GI) issues and picky eating in children with autism. In fact, research has shown that up to 70% of children with autism may experience GI problems such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating.

These GI issues can lead to discomfort and pain when eating certain foods, which can cause children to avoid those foods altogether. This avoidance can then contribute to picky eating habits.

It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the potential link between GI issues and picky eating in children with autism. If your child is experiencing any GI symptoms, it may be helpful to talk to their healthcare provider about potential treatment options.

In addition, some research has suggested that dietary changes may help alleviate GI symptoms in children with autism. For example, a gluten-free or casein-free diet may be beneficial for some children.

However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant dietary changes.

By addressing any underlying GI issues and working with healthcare providers to develop a well-rounded treatment plan, parents can help their child overcome picky eating habits and improve overall health and well-being.

Nutritional Supplements for Children with Limited Diets

Children with autism who have picky eating habits may be at risk for nutritional deficiencies due to their limited diets. In some cases, nutritional supplements may be necessary to ensure that the child is getting all the necessary nutrients for growth and development.

Here are some nutritional supplements that may benefit children with limited diets due to picky eating habits:

  • Multivitamins: A daily multivitamin can help ensure that a child is getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals, even if they are not consuming them through food.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, can help support brain function and reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Probiotics: Probiotic supplements can help promote healthy gut bacteria, which may improve digestion and reduce GI symptoms.
  • Fiber supplements: Children who avoid certain foods may not be getting enough fiber in their diet. Fiber supplements can help promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.

It's important to note that nutritional supplements should not replace a balanced diet of whole foods whenever possible. However, they can be a helpful addition to a child's diet when needed.

Parents should work with a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or pediatrician, to determine if their child needs any specific nutritional supplements and what dosage would be appropriate based on their individual needs.

Wrapping Up

Picky eating is a common issue for children with autism, but there are strategies that parents can use to help their child develop a more varied diet.

By introducing new foods gradually, making food fun, and using positive reinforcement, parents can help their child overcome their picky eating habits and improve their health and well-being.