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Mealtime Strategies for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Picky Eating

Hello, dedicated caregivers!

Today, we're focusing on mealtime strategies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who experience picky eating challenges. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I'm here to provide you with practical tips and strategies to create a positive and nourishing mealtime experience. Every child deserves enjoyable and successful mealtimes, and we're here to support you every step of the way. Let's dive in and embrace the path to success!

Understanding the Challenges with Autism

Mealtime challenges can be common for children with ASD. Sensory sensitivities, rigidity in routines, and food aversions may contribute to picky eating behaviors. By understanding these challenges, we can develop strategies to help your child overcome them and foster a healthier relationship with food.

1. Establish Predictable Routines:

Children with ASD often thrive on routines. Establishing predictable mealtime routines can provide a sense of security and reduce anxiety. Create a visual schedule or use visual cues to help your child understand and anticipate mealtime activities. Consistency in routine can promote a calm and positive atmosphere.

2. Sensory Considerations:

Sensory sensitivities can impact a child's eating experience. Take note of your child's sensitivities to textures, tastes, and smells, and adjust mealtime strategies accordingly. Offer a variety of foods with different textures, and introduce new foods gradually. Encourage exploration and provide positive reinforcement for small steps towards trying new foods.

3. Visual Supports and Social Stories:

Visual supports, such as picture schedules or choice boards, can be helpful for children with Autism. Create visual representations of foods or mealtime steps to aid understanding and communication. Social stories, personalized narratives that describe mealtime routines and expectations, can also provide a visual and contextual framework for your child.

4. Use Visual and Textural Descriptors:

To help your child understand and explore new foods, use visual and textural descriptors. Use words like "crunchy," "soft," "smooth," or "sweet" to describe different foods. Pair these descriptors with visuals or tactile samples to provide a clear understanding of what to expect.

5. Encourage Self-Feeding Skills:

Developing self-feeding skills promotes independence and empowers your child during mealtimes. Provide adapted utensils or tools that support their fine motor skills. Offer finger foods or foods that are easier to handle, gradually introducing utensils as their skills develop. Encourage self-feeding at their own pace, providing positive reinforcement for their efforts.

Looking for More Support with an Occupational Therapist

If you find that mealtime challenges persist despite your efforts, consider seeking professional support. Our team of pediatric occupational therapists in Orlando, Florida specialize in working with children with Autism and can provide individualized feeding therapy services tailored to your child's unique needs. Check out this link to schedule a free call:

Not In Orlando, But Looking For More Support?

Check out this link to my online parent education course. It's an online, and instant access course you can take on your one time in less than 2 hours! It will help you take the first steps to making mealtimes less stressful and bring more JOY to the table.

Mealtime strategies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and picky eating challenges require patience, understanding, and creativity. By establishing predictable routines, addressing sensory sensitivities, and utilizing visual supports, you can create a positive and successful mealtime experience for your child. With your love and support, mealtime can become an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Samantha Stern, MS, OTR/L

CEO, & Occupational Therapist

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