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Difficulties children with Autism face with feeding

An individual's social communication, behaviour, and sensory processing are all impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition. Food intake is one of the difficulties faced by children with autism. Nutritional deficiencies may result from their selective or restrictive eating patterns, food aversion, or food rejection.

This blog article will go through the challenges children with autism face when it comes to eating, potential causes of bad eating habits, easy ways to get around them, and how working with a paediatric dietitian and occupational therapist can be beneficial.

Barrier's children with autism experience with food intake:

Children with autism frequently struggle with sensory processing, which can make them sensitive to the feel, flavour, and aroma of food. They might struggle to accept particular flavours or textures, which could lead to selective eating patterns or food aversions. Also, children with autism could have a narrow range of food choices, which, if they don't eat a balanced diet, might result in nutritional inadequacies. Moreover, they could encounter gastrointestinal issues including constipation, which can lead to poor dietary choices.

Possible reasons for poor food intake

There are several reasons why children with autism may have poor food intake. Some of these reasons include:

  • Sensory processing difficulties: Children with autism may have difficulty processing sensory information related to food. They may find certain textures, smells, or tastes overwhelming, resulting in food aversions or selective eating habits [5]

  • Limited food preferences: Children with autism may have a limited range of food preferences which can lead to poor food intake and nutritional deficiencies [6].

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: Children with autism may experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation, which can contribute to poor food intake [7].

  • Anxiety: Children with autism may experience anxiety related to mealtimes, which can make them reluctant to try new foods or eat in unfamiliar settings [8].

Simple strategies to overcome poor food intake for children with autism

There are several simple strategies that parents and caregivers can use to help children with autism overcome poor food intake. These strategies include:

  • Introducing new foods gradually: Introducing new foods gradually can help children with autism become more comfortable with unfamiliar textures and tastes. Start by introducing small amounts of new foods alongside familiar foods, and gradually increase the amount over time

  • Using visual aids: Visual aids, such as picture cards, can help children with autism understand and anticipate mealtimes. They can also be used to illustrate the steps involved in preparing food

  • Creating a predictable mealtime routine: can help children with autism feel more comfortable and relaxed during mealtimes. Try to eat meals at the same time every day, in the same location, and with the same utensils and dishes [11].

  • Offering a variety of foods: Offering a variety of foods can help children with autism develop a more diverse palate and reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Try to offer a range of textures, tastes, and colours [12].

  • Observe your child's sensory requirement : Certain flavours, odours, or textures may overwhelm autistic children. Respecting your child's sensory requirements is crucial. Don't make them consume anything they find overwhelming. You can experiment by introducing a range of foods with various textures and flavours to see which ones your child likes.

How working with a paediatric dietitian can help

Children with autism who have poor dietary habits may benefit from working with a paediatric dietitian and occupational therapist. A child's unique needs and preferences are taken into consideration when paediatric dietitians create personalised meal plans and conduct nutritional assessments. They can also offer suggestions on how to deal with eating issues like food aversion or refusal and give suggestions on methods to increase food intake.

Children with autism who are not consuming enough can also benefit from the assistance of occupational therapists. They can offer sensory-based eating treatment, which entails exposing kids to a variety of tastes, textures, and odours in a safe setting. Occupational therapists can also provide suggestions on how to make mealtimes less stressful and more fun for kids with autism.

In conclusion, selective eating is a frequent problem that many children with autism experience. But it is feasible to encourage an autistic child to eat more by being patient, understanding, and using the appropriate techniques. Respecting your child's sensory needs is important. You should also promote tiny steps, utilise visual aids, establish regular routines, involve your child in food preparation, and, if necessary, seek expert assistance. You can aid your child in developing a more well-balanced and diverse diet by utilising these suggestions.

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