A picky eater is one of the greatest worries parents have. The food they eat can be narrowed to a limited assortment. Some children only eat savoury food while some will only eat sweet food. There are also children who only eat soft food like mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Picky eating, in the long run, is dire, and will not only result in nutrients deficiency needed for growth and brain development, speech development might be compromised as well. When we chew, lick and bite, the muscles activated around our mouth and jaw are the same muscles needed for speech development.
⇒ Related Read: My Baby Hates Food!
According to research, children with autism have high prevalence of picking eating. This could be due to sensory sensitivity, medical problems like gastrointestinal distress and digestion issues such as constipation. Here are 8 strategies to help your child.
Autism And Picky Eating
#1 Check with a medical doctor or a professional
Issues like digestive problems could be the reason why your child is selective to the food they choose. Always consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and start on proper treatments if it is a medical condition.
#2 Rule out sensory issues
As mentioned earlier, eating could be affected by sensory sensitivity. When a child has oral over-responsiveness, they will experience discomfort when eating food of varied texture. Consult an occupational therapist or a medical professional for help.
#3 One-bite rule
Patience, patience and more patience. Bear in mind that your intention is to expose your child to a variety of food and have them try new food in the long run. If your child refuses to try, encourage them to take a small bite and it is perfectly fine if they disliked the food. The key is at least they tried.
#4 One step at a time
Some children are not adventurous when it comes to trying out new things. This is no exception for children with autism. Help your child explore new food by letting them look at it, smell it and feel it. Do this slowly. It can take up to a few days as you introduce the food to them, but it is all about encouraging your child to take the first step. When your child is ready, they can try giving it a lick or a small bite.
#5 Be creative!
Instead of presenting your child’s food in the same usual manner, get creative and present it in fun and creative styles. Depending on your child’s interest, parents can use different types of food and fruits to present food in a whole different manner.
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#6 Get involved
One of the best tricks to encourage better eating is to involve your child in the cooking process. Have them join you for grocery shopping and use that opportunity to educate them on the types of healthy and unhealthy food. When you are home, be sure to select appropriate skills and tasks for them to help you in the preparation process. Children who help prepare food are generally more willing to try what they made.
⇒ Related Read: Baking With Your Child
#7 Power of control
Provide options for your child. For example, if you wish to have your child eat vegetables, present 2-3 types of vegetables of similar texture and taste and allow your child to choose. This makes them feel that they have control over what they eat.
Avoid using authoritative words such as “must eat” or “eat this”. Such words may make your child feel that they have no control over what they put into their mouths and defenceless. They are more likely to kick a fuss than to obey your instructions. Go with phrases that are less compelling such as “try this” or “just a tiny bite”.
#8 Be a role model
Be aware of your eating etiquette. This may sound obvious but it is one of the most neglected factors. We often forget that our children look up to us and follow our actions. If our children see us picking out vegetables and other foods on our own plates, how can we expect them to try these foods?
This article is contributed by Yang Ling, associate psychologist, principal therapist and founding partner at The Growing Academy.
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