If you have a child with autism, their nutrition holds a key value to how they thrive in life. As pediatric experts, we understand the importance of helping your child have fulfilling days. When you partner with us at Neighborhood Pediatrics in Shenandoah, Texas, we help you navigate through the ins and outs of autism.
Though treatments include therapies, medications, school staff assistance, and making certain lifestyle changes, we want to focus on their diet.
The importance of nutrition for autistic children
Nutrition in general is important for everyone. However, children with autism tend to be extremely selective about what they will and won’t eat, which can impede the number of nutrients they need to have. If they only select a few certain items, they are bound to experience nutrient deficiencies.
As a parent, you might notice that your child has a fear of trying a new food, or they may even refuse to eat what you suggest. We’re here to help.
Helping your child enjoy a nutritional diet
There isn’t a perfect science or formula to help your child fall in love with a healthy diet. However, here are some strategies that can work:
Don’t make mealtime a pressured event
Autistic children can experience great anxiety when it’s time to have a meal. Sometimes, their sensory aversions or discomfort with unfamiliar foods can trigger them. When you force your child to eat, it can have the reverse effect and cause their hunger to shut down.
Instead, spend a few minutes with your child before mealtime doing breathing exercises. Inhale for four seconds and exhale for seven. If you want to make it more fun, blow bubbles or a pinwheel.
You can also have them push their hands against the wall with their full weight or have them push their hands against yours. These exercises calm the brain and help your child relax.
Make mealtime a family moment
When you routinely eat meals together as a family, children learn that this is what they are supposed to be doing. In the same way your autistic child knows when it’s time for bed, they understand when it’s time to eat.
This is also an opportunity for your child to copy what you and their other siblings are doing, so they are more likely to put new food in their mouth.
Start by sitting down together – even if it’s only for one minute. Gradually build up to 20 minutes of mealtime together. Don’t force your child to eat. Simply have their food in front of them, and let them watch everyone else at the table eat. This can eventually help them feel comfortable at mealtime.
Pay attention to your child’s posture
Autistic children can lack body awareness, which can produce poor posture, lots of wiggling, and discomfort while sitting at the meal table. If you notice slouching or leaning, place a roll of paper towels behind their back to give them added support.
If their feet don’t reach the ground, try placing a footstool beneath them to provide stability. These tips can help them sit up straight and be more focused on mealtime.
Gradually expose your child to new foods
Your child might have a strong reaction to the appearance of certain foods. For example, they might not want to touch an apple because it appears wet. Though these fears might not make sense to you, they are very real to your child.
To help them overcome their issue with certain foods, place the food item in front of them, but assure them they don’t have to eat it. You can then encourage them to move the apple with a fork, then with a napkin, and then with their fingers.
You can also encourage them to play with food while you dialogue about the look and feel of it. You can make foods look interesting with cookie cutouts. As they become more comfortable with what they fear, the fear leaves.
We know autism brings its challenges, but we’re here to help your child enjoy their life to the fullest. To learn more or to gain the support you need, call our team today at 832-843-2049 or book an appointment online.