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Picky Eating Tips for Kids with Autism

Published May 23, 2024

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Picky eating is a common challenge for many kiddos, but for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can be particularly complex. Kids with autism often exhibit sensory sensitivities and rigid behaviors that impact their food preferences and eating habits. Fortunately, there are evidence-based strategies that can help parents and caregivers navigate picky eating in kiddos with autism.

Understanding the Challenge: Picky Eating in Kiddos with Autism

Picky eating in kiddos with autism can stem from sensory sensitivities, rigid routines, and aversions to certain textures, colors, or smells of food. These challenges can make mealtimes stressful for both kiddos and their families. According to research published in theJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders [1], up to 70% of children with autism experience feeding problems, compared to around 25-50% of typically developing children. 

In addition, A study published in theJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders [2] found that kids with autism have a higher prevalence of food selectivity and sensory sensitivity. Picky eating in kiddos with autism may also be influenced by factors such as gastrointestinal symptoms, medication side effects, and oral motor difficulties.

Creating a Supportive Environment: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

  1. Offer a Variety of Foods: While it may be tempting to stick to familiar foods, introducing a variety of textures, colors, and flavors can help broaden kiddos' palates over time.

  2. Provide Predictable Mealtime Routines: Establishing consistent mealtime routines can help kiddos feel more comfortable and reduce anxiety around eating. Create a calm and predictable environment by setting specific mealtime schedules.

  3. Use Visual Supports: Visual aids, such as picture schedules or food choice boards, can help kiddos with autism understand mealtime expectations and make choices about what to eat.

  4. Encourage Exploration: Encourage kiddos to explore new foods at their own pace, without pressure or coercion. Offer praise and positive reinforcement for trying new foods, even if it's just a small taste.

Summary

Picky eating is a common challenge for kiddos with autism, impacting up to 70% of this population [1]. Strategies such as offering a variety of foods, establishing predictable mealtime routines, and using visual supports can help support kiddos with autism in expanding their food preferences and promoting healthy eating habits. Consulting healthcare professionals specializing in autism and feeding issues can provide additional guidance and support for families facing picky eating challenges.

References:

  • Schreck, K. A., & Williams, K. (2006). Food preferences and factors influencing food selectivity for children with autism spectrum disorders.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(2), 157–168.
  • Bandini, L. G., Anderson, S. E., Curtin, C., Cermak, S., Evans, E. W., Scampini, R., Maslin, M., & Must, A. (2010). Food selectivity in children with autism spectrum disorders and typically developing children.Journal of Pediatrics, 157(2), 259–264.
  • Schreck, K. A., & Williams, K. (2006). Food preferences and factors influencing food selectivity for children with autism spectrum disorders.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(2), 157–168.
  • Twachtman-Reilly, J., Amaral, S. C., & Zebrowski, P. P. (2008). Addressing feeding disorders in children on the autism spectrum in school-based settings: Physiological and behavioral issues.Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 39(2), 261–272.