Mealtime can be a challenge with any child, but the issues can be magnified if your child has autism or is otherwise on the spectrum. Sensory issues often come in to play, which means a beloved food can suddenly be considered disgusting simply because it looks slightly different than usual. These and other issues can make it difficult to ensure a healthy nutritional variety. The following advice can help you and your child have a nicer mealtime experience.
Tip #1: Keep mealtime stress-free
It does no good to force your child to eat or to argue with your child. This just creates a stressful environment, which can lead to a stubborn aversion to mealtimes or even eating in general. Instead, remain pleasant throughout mealtimes. Also, use a transition activity to help ease the stress that some autistic children simply feel when a new event is taking place. For example, practice a deep breathing or a repetitive movement exercise.
Tip #2: Create a routine
As in most things, a routine is another key element to relieving mealtime stress. Children with autism are almost fully dependent upon both routine and following the behavioral cues of those around them. Have meals at a similar time each day and always have them together, preferably at the table. This way your child not only has the comfort of a schedule, they are also more likely to learn to eat and try new foods by watching everyone else.
Tip #3: Pay attention to aversions
No aversion or fear is silly. Some children may refuse to eat or even touch any food that looks wet or sticky, while for others a certain color of food may be thoroughly unappealing. When you notice a specific fear or aversion, don't force the issue. If a child can't stand any orange foods, don't put carrots on their plate. In the child's mind, this could make all the food on the plate untouchable.
Tip #4: Use play therapy
Play therapy is a very powerful tool for helping autistic children overcome food aversions. Set aside some time, outside of mealtimes, to simply play with the food. Use a few favorites along with a new food or one your child avoids. Mash it, slice it, dice it, or try a new recipe together. Don't insist that the creations be edible or even eaten. The goal isn't to make a meal, but to become comfortable with a variety of food items on a sensory level.
Contact an autism counselor in your area for more help with mealtime issues. They can help you find tailored exercises, games, and therapies that will help your child.
Counseling can be a great help with many aspects of your life. Whether you are struggling with your work life, personal life or love life, talking with someone who can help you wrap your head around the way that you are feeling can help you find balance and create a better way of life for yourself. Our blog will show you several ways that a counselor can help you with the different areas of your life. You will also learn a few tips that can help you improve things on your own and information to help you know what to expect when you go to a counselor for the first time.