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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Feeding

Parent Question: How can I help my child with Autism with his feeding issues?

Throughout my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist I have worked with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and feeding challenges. Children on the Autism Spectrum have a significantly higher incidence of feeding issues than typically developing children. These are some of the feeding differences I have encountered when working with children with ASD:

  • Reduced variety of foods (e.g., only eat 1 food group, texture, brand, or colour)
  • Difficulty accepting new foods (e.g., gagging, fear/crying, running away from the table)
  • Challenges accepting changes in food preparation (e.g., slight changes in texture/colour or temperature can lead to complete refusal of a meal)
  • Difficulty transitioning to table foods (e.g., only eat pureed foods)
  • Only eating fast foods that are prepared outside the home (e.g., McDonald’s fries only)
  • Difficulty tolerating changes in the mealtime environment/routine (unable...
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Take a Bite (Out of 3 Feeding Myths)

Myth 1

“Just offer your child what the rest of the family is eating. If he gets hungry enough, he will eat”

Truth

This logic does not apply to all kids, especially to children with ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) or those with severe selective eating/sensory-based feeding issues. I have seen this myth in practice. Children with severe feeding issues will often go without eating, rather than eat foods that they feel they “cannot” eat. I say “cannot” because these kids view the food as something that they are unable to eat. It’s not a matter of not wanting to eat it, they feel that the food cannot be eaten. Instead offer your child foods they can eat successfully along with foods you would like to introduce. I ask parents to use the 75-25 rule. This means that 75% of the plate should be familiar foods the child can eat, and 25% should be new foods for exposure and learning.

Myth 2

“My doctor says not to worry, my child...

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Parent question: Why won’t my child eat like other kids his age?

Nicola says:

Feeding issues are extremely distressing for parents. It’s normal for parents to want to know why their child is having feeding issues, when they are often surrounded by other kids that are eating well. Seeing other kids eat well is frustrating and painful for parents and they often tell me that they wish their child would eat like their friends’ kids. I find it’s helpful for parents to understand the “Why” of their child’s feeding challenges. In my 20-years of experience as a feeding therapist, these are the 7 main reasons children have feeding issues. Many kids have more than one contributing factor, which can make feeding even more challenging for little ones and their families:

  1. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD): If your child has or previously had reflux (heartburn), he may have learned to associate eating with pain or vomiting. This can lead to food refusal. He thinks, “I eat and it hurts, so I don’t want to eat.”...
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