Typically appearing among the first three years of a child’s life, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex developmental and neurological condition. In particular, it affects the ability to interact socially and communicate. Some of the classic symptoms include delays in talking, inability to play with other children, aversion to being held or cuddled, and poor eye contact. Autism spectrum disorders are believed to be caused by genetics and the environment.
ASD is estimated to affect one out of every 44 American children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The behaviors of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders are often repeated, or their interests are narrow and restricted. The following health concerns can result from these types of behavior.
- They may have a limited selection of foods or dislike certain foods. The taste, smell, color, and texture of foods may be sensitive to someone with autism. Some diets or even whole food groups may be limited or avoided. Foods with intense flavors, fruits, vegetables, or slippery or soft textures may be disliked.
- Kids may eat too little food. Children with autism may have difficulty focusing for long periods. From start to finish, a meal may be complex for a child.
- Constipation. Limitations in food choices, low physical activity levels, or medications may lead to this problem. Plenty of fluids and regular exercise can help alleviate this condition. Consuming dietary fiber, such as bran cereals and fruits and vegetables, can also help.
- Drug interactions. Autism medication can lower appetite if it contains stimulants. Children may eat less, which can affect their growth. Specific vitamins and minerals may not be adequately absorbed or may increase appetite. It’s important for these children to have vitamins and supplements to reduce the synptoms of autism. Discuss possible side effects with your healthcare provider if your child takes medication.
Diet Tips for children with Autism
- Plan your meals
Children with autism often need regular schedules. The same applies to mealtimes. Your kid will know what to expect if regular meals and snacks are scheduled. Experts at the Marcus Autism Center recommend gradually introducing family dinners and other mealtimes to designated places if your child tends to eat in front of the TV or on the go.
Starting with only 30 seconds, they recommend gradually increasing the time your child sits at the table with you. Having meals at the table for 15 or 30 minutes is ideal.
- Before dinner, relax
You may be able to encourage your child to become more accepting of eating and sitting during mealtime by reducing their stress before the meal. The child could actively relax in a quiet environment or read a favorite book with you.
- Play with food
You don’t have to start a food fight to motivate your autistic child to eat new foods – but you can encourage them to play with food. You could do this by making shapes out of the food or by examining the texture, smell, and taste of the food. You want your child to engage as much as possible with the food.
Including your child in food preparation is also an option to make it entertaining. You can encourage your child to try the meal they are making by exposing them to the cooking process.
- Don’t focus on behaviors, but on the foods
Your child can escape mealtime by engaging in behaviors related to mealtime. It would be great if you instead focused on trying to engage your child in conversations about the food rather than focusing on negative behavior. To grab their attention, you might ask about the food’s color, texture, and taste.
When discussing behaviors, focus on good ones. Instead of focusing on negative behaviors, praise your child for sitting nicely, trying new food, or for other positive behaviors.
- Beware of brand dependency
A child can develop dependence if you only give him one type of food or one brand of food. Remove foods from a marked box immediately to prevent dependency on a brand, and frequently switch food items brands rather than serving them directly from the box.
Children with autism can benefit significantly from a nutritious, balanced diet by learning, managing their emotions, and processing information better. Some children with autism may not get all the nutrients they need because they avoid certain foods or restrict their eating. They also may have trouble sitting through mealtimes.