What’s a reasonable amount of time when introducing a new food to the time of acceptance of it?
I receive some form of this question at least weekly with the families participating in my Nutrition for Autism Program.
I’m sure you can relate.
This is an important question to ask, but a hard one to answer.
The bottom line is that every child is different, so there is no set timeline. I suggest letting go of all expectations. Some children are more sensitive to change than others. Some changes will be easier than others for your child to make.
While we really can’t predict these things, there are some factors that can influence how long it will take to get your child with autism to eat new foods.
Factors that Affect How Long It Takes Kids on the Spectrum To Expand Their Diet:
Certain foods are easier to like than others. This can be due to their texture, flavor, or similarity to other foods that your child is already eating. Typical “kid foods” and highly processed foods tend to be more friendly whereas vegetables and proteins can be more difficult to get used to.
Your Child’s Eating Barriers
Certain barriers are easier to overcome than others. Beyond that, each barrier will be different for your child. It might be easier for your child to accept new foods of a certain color or texture, while certain flavors pose a bigger challenge. Or, maybe your child has no problem adding new flavors, but struggles with texture or particular food groups. Progress may also depend on whether your child’s eating barriers are behavioral, physiologic, or sensory.
Your Child’s Current Diet
A child with a severely limited diet (10 foods or under) may take longer to add new foods. This could be because she is used to fewer foods or has significant barriers to eating. A child who eats a larger variety of foods may see progress faster for the same reasons - she is used to more foods and doesn’t have as many barriers to eating.
How Far Along You Are in the Process
The really good news is that once your child begins to accept new foods, textures, and flavors, it will be easier for her to continuing adding diversity to her diet. Sometimes adding the first few foods is the hardest step and the one that takes the longer. Once that barrier is crossed, adding even more new foods comes much more easily.
The bottom line? I suggest letting go of all expectations. Some children are more sensitive to change than others. Progress seems to happen when and where you least expect it. The best thing you can do is be patient and persistent.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder of some of the best ways to help a picky eater with autism expand new foods:
Children add new foods to their diets at different paces. Your child’s preferences and barriers to eating can impact how much time she requires to expand her diet.
Let go of all expectations. I suggest tracking which foods you offer and how your child responds so you can see progress, but try not to get hung up on how quickly that progress comes.