If you’re a parent to a child on the autism spectrum, take some comfort in knowing that up to about 90% of children with autism struggle with significant eating challenges. You are NOT alone in this. The challenges can range from picky eating to dependence upon PediaSure or g-tube for caloric intake. We know that children thrive in an expected world. But children with autism can take that to the margin where a preoccupation with sameness can drive them to eat only the same thing every day. Despite these staggering numbers, there are evidenced-based treatments and models of care that can help improve the lives of children and families from a nutritional and quality of life perspective. I had the pleasure of having Dr. Danielle Dolezal on the podcast to discuss this topic. The first podcast here is an overview of why children with Autism Spectrum disorders have these challenges with eating.
Rigidity and sameness contributes greatly to feeding picture. Eating is one of the most sensory experiences you can have.” ~Dr. Dolezal
Dr. Dolezal is the Clinical Supervisor of the Pediatric Feeding Program at Seattle Children’s Autism Center. She’s super smartypants and created the highly sought after (nearly 500 families on the wait list, unfortunately) interdisciplinary team model and program at the Autism Center. That means patients that have multiple factors contributing to feeding issues (medical, skill, motor, physiologic, and psychology) get to see a variety of team members under 1 roof. She started off her career with a masters in special education with special emphasis in early childhood and children who struggle with severe challenging behavior. She then got her PhD in child psychology with further emphasis in behavior analysis specializing in feeding disorders and severe challenging behavior. So needless to say….she knows her stuff. Her podcast is so good. Insistence on sameness is a common theme and can be horribly challenging for families who worry about their child’s nutrition.
A Few Quick Tips:
- Try to not let your child slip into patterns of grazing, which is very common and leads to disrupted hunger/satiety patterns. This makes it difficult for them to try new foods because they graze to take the edge of the hunger all day long and are never really sitting down to eat a full meal at set meal times. They will be more apt and ready to try new foods if you keep to a set schedule. They don’t have to stay seated in a seat. They can stand up. But the food stays at the table.
- Try celebrating and reinforce flexibility with something the child is already doing. So if they are eating dry/crunchy textures, try branching out to ANY type of cracker. Go from white cheddar Cheez-It to regular Cheez-It. Celebrate that as a new learning experience and new demonstration of flexibility.