Top Mealtime Tips for Autistic Children
Being a parent is, as a whole, challenging at times. It holds all sorts of challenges at different stages, some that seem bigger than others. Having a child with autism brings along other unique needs. Autism affects the entire family, especially when it comes to food, sleep, and routine. Most autistic children have some sensory issues. So, how do you help your autistic child eat a well-balanced diet?
Top Mealtime Tips for Autistic Children
Don’t worry about what other people think.
Finding foods that your autistic child likes is more than a taste issue. Texture, taste, color, cutlery, smells, and a lack of hunger awareness can all lead to struggles at mealtime. Having safe foods (known foods that are preferred) can help reduce sensory overload, especially when in new environments. Social standards have many looking down on those who give in to a child’s eating habits. While understandable for some, for autistic children this just isn’t the case.
Going out to eat is extremely stressful for neurodiverse individuals. This is due to sensory overload from lights, sounds, people, smells, and other sensory stimuli. Having safe foods helps to reduce additional stress or anxiety to your child’s day. Doing so is more of a priority than a few comments from other people, no matter what the food may be that you are letting them eat.
Invest in a portable cutlery set
Some autistic children struggle to eat food out of a packet or having their foods touch one another. Having a seperated plate, specific cutlery set, or a cup can be a life saver. You can pop these items into a bag and take them wherever you are going. Having two sets of these items in the same color, pattern and style will also be a good idea. After all, accidents happen, and as a parent, you always need a backup plan!!
Having something with their favorite tv character on is also encouraging when they sit to eat. If your child gets distracted, you can bring them back by saying, look what the elephant is doing. Sometimes having the elephant in the room can be a good thing!
It’s not just your child that needs things to be easier sometimes. Taking care of your emotional needs when you are exhausted is important in function while maintaining your sanity.
Try not to get cross.
As difficult as it may be, getting cross with a child at mealtimes most of the time is usually caused by frustration. When a child has autism, the problem you face is that they will not always understand why you’re angry. Autistic children often find facial expressions hard to read, all they can hear are the cross or angry words being said to them. If they struggle with verbal communication, all they will hear is noise.
Understanding autism is difficult enough for an adult, so being a child who has, it can be confusing and frustrating. Whatever you are feeling, keep in mind that while your child is probably feeling all sorts of emotions too. Keeping calm and gently helping them through their concerns will go much farther in helping autistic children at mealtime
Encourage them to play with food.
Adults spend most of their time at meals telling children not to play with their food. However, encouraging your child to play with food away from the dinner table can encourage them when it comes to trying new food. Letting them touch the food without trying to force them to try it is more likely to result in them putting it in their mouth and trying it. Placing a box at the other side of the room with different types of fruit and asking them to get you one or you collecting it and giving it to them is a useful way of turning learning into a game.
Although autistic children can find the world a bit scary, being the parent of a child with autism has who has this is also scary and lonely. All children are unique, no matter what their needs may be. Finding as many ways to cope with what is going on in your family unit will make everybody’s life a little easier. Look for groups to join in encouraging a hobby that you can join and have fun together.
This may not happen for you immediately, but when trying tips out, try to give them a fair amount of time to see if they work. All children need both routine and fun, not just children who have autism. A happy child usually comes to a happy parent. This helps parents feel calmer, and knowing that you are doing your best is all that any parent wants. Remember that every parent has worries and anxiety about whether or not they are doing a good job.