A autism mom sent me an email recently asking for some solutions to help her picky eater. Aside from having typical picky eating type issues leading to a limited diet, her biggest challenge is “polite defiance.” She said her 5-year-old boy with autism stopped participating in gradual food advancement steps like tasting, kissing, touching, or licking.
What should you do if your child isn’t responding to common feeding therapies used in autism?
While I believe that individual therapy and professional guidance are the best ways to troubleshoot and ensure your kid is getting the support they need, I have a few general guidelines to help your child with autism eat better and meet nutritional goals.
Try these four techniques that make feeding therapy a success:
Rewarding goal behavior can be very effective for kids on the spectrum. Positive reinforcement for feeding can include providing your child with a food reward (praise, toys, screen time, a favorite activity) when (s)he completes the desired eating behavior. For example, when your child successfully licks a target food, you provide them with their favorite toy or add a sticker to their reward chart. Remember to ignore negative behavior and also keep your feedback positive (avoid using “don’t,” for example “we eat slowly” is received better than “we don’t eat quickly.”)
Mirror what already works
Is there a therapy or technique that is already working for something else in your child’s life? Most therapies used in autism can be applied to eating. Look at what is already working (maybe in the classroom or in ABA therapy) and mirror what is successful by use the same tools, language, and techniques.
Consider a functional behavior analysis
There’s often a reason for the feeding struggles we see in children with autism. Once you know why your child is doing what they do you’ll better know how you can address the issue and move forward. Common obstacles seen in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be tied to sensory deficits, preference for routine, communication barriers, and behavior issues.
Seek professional help
If you’re at a standstill, concerned that your child isn’t eating the food (s)he needs, and don’t know how to move forward, consider reaching out to a feeding therapist, behavior therapist, speech pathologist, or registered dietitian. I work with families to overcome obstacles to eating and create the best nutrition plan for their ASD child. Learn more about my services and sign up for a FREE phone call to discuss how I can help your child thrive.
There are a many feeding therapies known to be effective in the autism population. Consistency is key to help your child improve their nutrition and relationship with food and eating, however, it can be helpful to try new techniques when you’re stalling. When you find something that works - even if it has nothing to do with food - give it a shot. Stay positive, and seek professional help when needed.