Do you have a child who eats a limited number of foods? Are you concerned about their overall nutrition? Children with developmental disabilities, particularly children with autism, are at increased risk for food selectivity. In 2010, in a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that children with autism engaged in greater food refusal than their typically developing peers. Additionally, having a more limited food repertoire was found to be associated with autism. Our 3 tips below explain what to do before introducing new foods to your child’s diet.
Some children with autism have rigid preferences about which textures or colors they can and cannot tolerate. White-colored foods (bread, popcorn, rice) are often staples of a “picky eater’s” diet. While the white foods are an important component of a healthy diet, a child needs the essential vitamins and nutrients that come from fruits, vegetables, and proteins to have a balanced diet.
Here are a few tips to help your child increase the variety of foods they regularly (and happily!) eat each day:
Step 1: Talk to your child’s pediatrician
If you or your child’s doctor are concerned about your child’s eating habits, and medical concerns have been ruled out, and/or are being monitored by your child’s medical team, talk to your doctor about an interim nutritional plan that may include necessary supplemental vitamins until your child is happily eating a greater variety of foods.
Step 2: Make two lists
What are the foods that your child currently eats? Write these down on a list. Place a star next to the foods on this list that your child not only tolerates, but loves (e.g., berries, gummy bear candy). On this list, include the date that you created the entry. This will help you and your child’s doctor and care team to monitor progress over time.
What are the foods that you would most like your child to eat that are not currently included in their diet? Jot down these foods on another list. Circle, star, or otherwise notate the foods on this list that you feel are the highest priority for your child to readily consume.
Step 3: Create a plan
If your child has extreme food selectivity, your pediatrician might have referred you to a feeding therapist. This professional will work with you to create a plan for expanding your child’s repertoire of preferred foods.
Don’t have access to a feeding therapist? Not to worry. Access to a feeding specialist is not necessary for most kids to learn to tolerate and enjoy new foods.
If your child receives speech therapy or ABA therapy, ask your child’s SLP or BCBA if they have experience in this area. Many speech-language pathologists and Board Certified Behavior Analysts have experience teaching children to enjoy new foods.
In our next post in this series, we’ll talk through the process of teaching a child to explore and enjoy new foods.
You can find more articles on a variety of ABA strategies here.