3 key ideas to help your autistic child if they’re a ‘fussy eater’
by Adina Levy
As a neurodivergent person with a lifetime of sensory challenges, I know deeply how hard eating a range of foods can be sometimes. I also come to you as a speech therapist with professional training and experience in supporting eating challenges.
The ideas I share below might get you started, however I strongly recommend that you seek individual assessment and support from a feeding therapist (speech therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist or dietitian) if your child and family are experiencing significant challenges with eating, food range, or mealtimes.
I wanted to share 3 key ideas that I believe can make a huge impact on your child’s relationship to food, and your family’s calm at mealtimes.
1️⃣ Understand why it’s hard
There can be so many reasons why your child has difficulty with eating or feeding. I’m not here to tell you which reasons most affect your child, but keep in mind that your child will show the skills that they are able to.
If mealtimes are difficult or food range is limited, there is always a reason (or more than one). Some of the reasons why it might be difficult for your child to eat a range of foods include:
- Sensory sensitivities
- Physical/motor skills
- Body awareness – interoception
- Psychological safety
- Medical/body issues
2️⃣ Play with your food!
Allow your child to explore and interact with foods in ways that feel right and comfortable for them, in that moment. That might mean seeing a new food on your plate one day, and having it on a separate plate near their own on another day. It might take days or months for them to feel ready to poke at it with a fork or sniff the new food. That is fine. Let it be fine for your child to take their time and feel in control of how they let food near their body.
Calm, patient adult responses are the most supportive way to help your child feel safe to interact with new foods. If you can ALL have a bit of fun playing with food, this can go a long way! Turn an apple into a car! Maybe your noodles make funny wriggly noises every time your fork swirls them! Let your imagination run wild and model playing with food for your child.
3️⃣Reconsider boundaries around food and mealtimes
Can ‘breakfast cereal’ be eaten at dinner time? Yes, if that works for your child!
Can ‘dessert’ food be served at the same time as ‘main course’? Absolutely! Let’s take sweet food off a pedestal and treat it all as FOOD!
Can we shift from a focus on ‘manners’ to just experiencing meals in a calm, connected way that is right for your child’s sensory and interaction needs? YES!
Want to learn more about supporting your autistic child with eating and feeding challenges?
I’ve just released a recorded webinar Eating, Mealtimes, and Food Aversions for Autistic Children.
In the 28 minute recorded webinar, you’ll learn a lot more about why your autistic child might have eating difficulties, and how to support them. I share info about your mindset, relationship factors, and practical easy-to-do suggestions to help you and your family have calmer mealtimes and support your child to feel safe to explore new foods over time.