Introducing your baby to their first solid food is a milestone in most parents’ lives. It marks a new phase in life as they begin to discover new flavors and textures. But some children, especially those with autism, do not get enjoyment from experiencing new foods, and this can continue far beyond childhood. 

Autism and Food Sensitivities

Mealtimes can be stressful for parents who have children with autism. We all want our kids to have nutritious meals, but many autistic children are highly selective eaters. They may avoid certain colors in their food or become distressed by different textures. When parents are struggling during meals, they often receive the advice, “Don’t worry, they’ll eat when they’re hungry!”, but food aversions and sensitivities go beyond just being a picky eater. 

Sensory processing disorders are very common for children on the autism spectrum. For some, loud noises can be overwhelming, for others it may be the sensory overload at dinner. There can be a variety of reasons why a certain food or texture triggers a sensory overload, but children with autism are five times more likely to have challenges relating to food. They have a limited palate and when they are overwhelmed emotional or physical outbursts can occur.

Helping Your Child Try New Foods

The first step towards helping experience new foods is getting an assessment to be sure that there are no underlying medical issues, food allergies, or food sensitivities that are triggering these food aversions. For example, if your child is experiencing sensitivity to gluten or dairy, they may not be able to fully explain why they don’t want to eat the food, they just know they want to avoid it. Medical professionals and occupational therapists can help assess your child’s diet and rule out physical causes. 

Once you’ve ruled out medical reasons, start with very small steps. The idea is that you are building up your child’s tolerance for new textures and food experiences. Many children with autism crave routine, so springing a whole new meal on them can feel overwhelming. Instead, start with one bite of one food. And if even that feels like too much for your child, you can even begin by just having a new food on the plate. Choose one food to begin with and continue to introduce them to it over the course of a week. Can they start by just tolerating it on their plate? Then can they graduate to smelling it, and eventually trying that bite? 

Understand that this is a process and one best done with professional help. An occupational therapist may suggest that you keep a journal to track new foods over time. When the road feels long, don’t forget to look back and congratulate yourself (and your child) on what progress you have made.

Seven Stars Can Help

Adolescence can present many challenges for teens who are falling behind their peers due to the neurological and developmental lags associated with ASD and ADHD. Seven Stars is one of the nation’s premier residential treatment centers for teens with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Whether diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder to date or not, Seven Stars’ students are those who struggle socially, emotionally, and academically.

Seven Stars’ treatment model is a revolutionary hybrid. By combining the assessment aspects of a multidisciplinary assessment center, the experiential learning of an adventure program, and the therapy and classroom academics of residential treatment, our program provides a very comprehensive solution for teens struggling with neurodevelopmental disorders. For more information please call (844) 601-1167.