Children are notoriously picky eaters which can make mealtimes very frustrating, and children with autism are no exception. Just like typically developing children the range of pickiness with food varies from child to child. Some children are great eaters and eat a wide variety of foods, while others will only eat certain foods and will engage in negative behaviors when those foods are not available. Another mealtime issue that can arise with children with autism at mealtimes is not being able to sit at the table for an extended period of time. Below are some suggestions on how to make mealtimes more successful.
Better Mealtimes For Your Child With Autism:
- Determine what your end goal is and then start small – If your goal is to have your child eat an entire meal at the table with the family, then start by determining what they can already do. Once you know what they can do, begin building on those skills.
- Ideally it is best to work on sitting at the table first. While practicing sitting at the table, allow your child to engage in preferred activities so they learn to associate sitting at the table with fun activities.
- Have reasonable expectations – If your child has difficulty sitting and only likes very specific foods, do expect them to sit for 20 minutes and try new foods. If you child is only able to sit for 5 minutes, then have him sit and eat for 3 minutes and reward that behavior. Gradually have him sit for longer and longer periods of time. Always reward the behaviors you want to see increase.
- After your child is able to sit calmly for at least 10 minutes, you can then work on introducing new foods.
- Introduce new foods slowly – Allow him to eat preferred foods, with the new foods it sight. It usually takes several exposures to new foods before they will try it.
- Be sure to reinforce any attempts at trying new foods, or even touching new foods.
- If you can see your child is starting to get upset about sitting at the table or trying a new food, prompt them to say they are all done and then excuse him from the table. It is better to end on a good note, then to have him have a melt down and then be allowed to leave them table. If this occurs he will learn if he gets upset, he can leave.
- Make mealtimes fun – Try to do fun things with food, if your child has a favorite TV show or movie, use plates and cups with those characters. If your child will only sit with the TV on, watch TV in the beginning and then you can work on gradually fading it out.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!