Many people with autism have food sensitivities and aversions, which is why autistic children are often considered to be picky eaters. Plus, various behavioral issues associated with ASD can also play a major role in making mealtimes particularly challenging for children with autism as well as their parents or caretakers. For these reasons, malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies are more common in children with autism as compared to other children. Therefore, inadequate nutrition among children is a viable concern for parents of children with autism.
It is important to understand that nutritional challenges in children with autism can lead to a number of other problems, including malnutrition, excessive weight gain, and stunted growth. It also increases the child’s risk of facing social difficulties. Apart from that, the risk of health issues, like cardiovascular diseases, may also increase. It can also lead to diet-related diseases such as obesity, which can cause various other health problems.
This makes it important to make sure that your child is eating right and getting all the nutrients they need to grow and lead a happy and healthy life. For this, all you need to do is monitor the diet of your child. In case you find any nutritional challenges that your child may be facing, you can take appropriate measures to overcome them.
Is Your Child Struggling with Nutritional Challenges?
The first step of overcoming nutritional challenges for kids with ASD is identifying them. Here is how you can do it.
• Check If Your Child is Eating Enough
While you may be serving all the right foods and your child may not struggle with food aversions, it is still possible that they may not be eating enough food. The reason is simple – children with autism often have a hard time concentrating on one task for a long time. This makes it hard for them to sit down and finish up everything on their plate. They quickly lose interest in eating after just a few bites. If not rectified, this behavior can easily lead to nutritional challenges over time.
• Consider Food Aversions and Preferences
Many children with autism have strong food preferences. This is not because they dislike the food or are picky eaters by choice. In fact, children with autism may be sensitive to the taste, smell, texture, or even color of the food. Some children also have sensory intolerance for foods that make loud noises as you take a bite or chew. As a result, a child may develop a preference for soft foods only, avoiding hard and crunchy food items.
When that’s the case, serving certain foods can result in mealtime tantrums and meltdowns. As a result, parents avoid including particular foods to the child’s diet. The problem is that some children may be sensitive to one or more food groups. Limiting or eliminating certain kinds of food or entire food groups from the diet can lead to severe malnutrition.
• Food Limitation Due to GERD and Other Medical Conditions
GERD and other gastrointestinal problems are a common concern among children with autism. Some of the most common GI symptoms include chronic diarrhea, excessive gas, bloating, frequent constipation, abdominal distention, and leaky gut syndrome.
Certain foods can aggravate these issues, which is why many parents and caretakers avoid including them in the child’s diet. While it is a great tactic to relieve GI symptoms, it can also cause other problems like malnutrition or weight gain. This makes it essential to keep track of all the healthy foods that are left out of the daily diet and find healthy alternatives for them to provide a balanced diet.
• Food Avoidance Due to Ritualistic Behaviors
In many cases, restrictive and ritualistic behavior associated with autism can affect the eating habits of children with autism. For example, if a child eats food items from a certain restaurant or brand, they may avoid foods that they are not familiar with. It is the fear of new food that keeps them from trying out various kinds of foods. Over time, this behavior can lead to a restrictive diet, which can cause nutritional problems.
As a parent or caretaker, it is important to know how to introduce new foods to the daily diet of your child. If the child refuses to eat due to fear of trying new food, you can also consider therapy or counseling. In case individual therapy is not viable, you can always opt for online counseling to help your child manage ritualistic behaviors and consume a healthy diet.
My Child Faces Nutritional Challenges – What Should I Do?
If your child is struggling with nutritional challenges, it is advisable to consult a doctor or a nutritionist to discuss their diet and come up with a healthy diet plan that suits your child. There are multiple other measures that you can take to reinforce good feeding habits in children with autism. Here are a few tips for parents that may make mealtimes fun and healthy!
• Try to offer a vegetable or fruit, protein, and starch at every snack or mealtime. Sure, it sounds like a lot but when the child is struggling to eat, you want to make the most of every opportunity!
• If your child is sensitive to the texture of certain foods, you can puree them or chop them into smaller pieces to meet the child’s preference.
• Try to make the mealtimes as fun as possible, especially if the child is not eating enough food due to a frequent change in attention. Something as simple as making a happy face with ketchup can encourage a child to finish the food on their plate!
• Children with autism like a routine. This makes it important to develop a mealtime routine. It can include washing the hands, sitting at the dining table, setting the plates, etc.
• Opt for therapy as it can help develop good eating habits. If one-on-one therapy is not possible, consider remote therapy.
• Positive reinforcement works like a charm. So, don’t forget to appreciate your child every time they finish their meal or try a new food item. You can also offer a small reward like a dessert or extra playtime to encourage good eating habits.

These are a few tips that you can try to help develop healthy eating habits in your child. Also, keep in mind that perseverance is the key. You have to remain patient when trying to get your child to eat new foods. It is also advisable to consider supplements. However, make sure you consult with a doctor or nutritionist before starting supplements or trying a new diet for your child. Counseling or therapy may also help.
Good Luck!

Author's Bio: 

Emily Scott is a writer on a mission to educate people about special needs. She encourages therapy and counseling, and enjoys writing about it, too. Her goal is to help children and adults with special needs by educating parents and caretakers about nutritional challenges for kids with ASD and other issues.