Every parent is familiar with the stresses of mealtime with children. It is a challenge to maintain a balanced diet and instill good nutritional habits with children. When your child is diagnosed with Autism, the challenges are amplified many fold.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have particular sensitivities to sensory stimuli which leads to reluctance to trying new tastes and textures. These sensitivities affect their relationship with food. Children with ASD could also have behavioral challenges that make maintaining a healthy diet a challenge for parents.
In this article, we will discuss six tips to help parents of children with ASD
chart a path to providing a well-balanced diet for their children.
#1 Mealtime Rituals
Children with ASD favour routine and familiarity. You can use this to establish mealtime rituals. Set a routine for when you will have your meals as a family - and stick to it. While sticking to a routine can be a tough one for parents trying to juggle parenting with work-life balance, routine is essential in establishing mealtime rituals.
Hypersensitivity to stimuli can work against your mealtime goals. So, create a calming environment to minimize the stimuli. Dim the lights at the dinner table, play soothing music and definitely switch the TV off. Create a calming environment.
Create a mealtime ritual and get your child involved. Set the table together and assign small tasks like filling up water glasses before sitting down for the meal as you talk about dining together and food. This will help them get used to an expected routine.
#2 Get them to help in meal prep
At least once or twice a week, try to include your child with ASD in meal prep. Get them involved in the cooking process and let them safely handle some of the ingredients. This will help them connect with food in a different tactile way that will help them adapt to the diet options you have set for them.
#3 Pack it in with Nutritional Supplements
Despite all the efforts to get your child involved in mealtime rituals and preparing meals together, they may still not be able to get over their food aversions. Hypersensitivities to texture and taste can lead them to still avoid groups of foods altogether. This aversion may include valuable fiber and nutrient-packed food groups.
So, don’t be afraid to include nutritional supplements in their diets. Incorporate a multi-vitamin and dietary fiber into the daily supplements. Along with that, some vitamins like Vitamin K, C, D, B6, and Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to improve brain development and reduce behavioral issues in children with ASD.
There are plenty of websites and online medical journals you can explore to find out more about autism supplement
studies. Consult your family physician or specialist to create a regiment of supplements for daily intake.
Keep in mind that the regular medications for ASD might affect the gut bacteria and affect digestion; so include some probiotics to boost the good bacteria. If your child is averse to taking the supplement and probiotics in pill (or gummy bear) form, include them in their smoothies or drinks.
#4 Connect them to dirt that grows the food
If you have some garden space in your yard or access to community gardens, consider gardening some vegetables. Bring your child along and get their hands dirty with gardening. Make gardening into a fun activity for them while keeping their sensitivities in mind.
Studies show that the more of a relationship the child creates with food, the more adaptable they will be to their diet. Let them see how food grows and connect them to that concept. This will aid in managing the food aversions.
#5 Keep Food Organic & Clean
Studies have shown that highly processed foods with commercial additives and refined sugars exacerbates symptoms of ASD in children with autism. Autism specialists recommend sticking to organic and clean eating for children with ASD.
Clean eating refers to a diet that includes organic whole foods and avoids processed foods, sweeteners, additives and food colouring.
For example, for transition to clean eating, you can replace crunchy packaged snacks with slices of apples or a crunchy vegetable that your child may like. This will also improve their proprioception
and motor skills that are associated with chewing.
Because children with ASD tend to stick to habits and routines, introducing clean whole foods in their meal routines will help them eventually prefer only whole foods.
#6 Lean on experts
Raising children with ASD requires a support network of friends, family, community, and healthcare and wellness specialists. Don’t be shy to rely on the experts for help and guidance.
Many Autism therapy organizations will provide you with access to specialized occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, and nutritionists. Occupational therapists can help you with weekly therapy sessions to help reduce your child’s sensitivities to food and help reduce food aversions.
Nutritionists can help you create a diet plan for your child with supplements and clean eating as priorities.
Many experts now offer video chats, guides, books, tools (like stress balls) to help your child adapt a diet plan. These are valuable resources that exist to help children with ASD to grow up to live their lives to the fullest.
Check with your local healthcare system and social services to see if there are any resources available through them to start.
Parenting children while juggling our careers and daily life stresses can be very challenging. Parenting a child with ASD will require more effort and energy. It can be sometimes overwhelming to process all the information and research that is available.
The good news is you don’t have to do this alone. Thanks to decades of evolution of Autism research and studies, you now have resources and help.
Don’t be afraid to access all the resources you can get a hold of to raise your child.
Try the six tips above to get your child with ASD on a healthy diet plan. Happy parenting!