by Jean Nicol
So many children are picky eaters. Actually there are many adults who might be called picky eaters too! Analyzing the “why” would be very individual, with a lot of factors to be considered……………………… very frustrating and worrisome for a parent!
When you include Autism Spectrum Disorder as a likely factor are you making it even more complicated? ……………….maybe or maybe not!
Eating/mealtime can often be overwhelming for someone on the spectrum – so much happening at family mealtimes, maybe not always eaten in the same place or with the same people or at the same times…………………….. too much to cope with day after day!
Then there is the fact that foods served are always different and one may not know what to expect. They may be thinking about having pizza (a picture in their memory) and they sit down to chicken, potatoes and carrots……………. shutdown or meltdown likely to occur!
So to gain some kind of control and to prevent hunger we might see that a way to solve the eating challenges is to limit the list of preferred foods – to self restrict their diet. This can be very troublesome for the parent who may now try many different strategies to try to get their child to eat a wider variety of healthy foods. Doing this adds more changes, different expectations and often anxiety…………………….. may not be helpful!
It is understandable that a parent would not be satisfied to see this continue, to sacrifice their child’s health over a long period of time. Where do you start with the problem solving? Here are some ideas:
1) consider the possibility or revisit issues of the past:
– physical/medical reasons for refusing foods ( chewing, swallowing, acid reflux, stomach pains, constipation etc)
– allergies, food intolerances/sensitivities
– sensory issues (food temperature, textures, smells, colors, shapes, tastes)
2) start keeping a journal – recording each day with the time what foods are eaten, where it is eaten and how much is eaten; maybe for a week or two. (include home, school, friends, restaurants etc) This will perhaps show some patterns that will be helpful.
3) make a list of all the foods your child has eaten in their lifetime, even though it may have been some time ago. If they are restricting their diet they are likely totally focused on those few foods and being in control and not even able to consider other foods they may have enjoyed at one time.
Now it would be time to take all the data you have and seek advice. Perhaps start with parent support groups – folks who have had similar experiences and strategies to share. If you are lucky a doctor may be helpful or suggest a referral to a specialist – don’t accept an answer you don’t agree with like “it is just a phase”, “they will grow out of it” “don’t worry, as long as they are eating” or “they won’t go hungry”…………………….. you know your child better than that and you care more that their health is being compromised!
Pediatricians, pediatric dieticians, occupational therapists, children’s hospital feeding clinics may be able to help you if they are knowledgeable and support those on the spectrum.
Jean Nicol has 30 years experience with autism, a nutrition degree, 25 years as a special education teacher and school autism consultant as well as 3 years as an early interventionist for children with special needs. All of this helped her to invent The Eating Game for a little autistic boy followed by 8 years of helping kids and their families deal with eating challenges.
Jean offers you a list of foods to use as you try to create your list of foods you child has eaten in their lifetime; a list you will likely add to http://theeatinggame.ca/2015/02/06/a-list-of-common-foods/
Jean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org