Children on the Autism Spectrum have a range of unique challenges to face along with their families.  There is a very popular saying in the autism community ‘If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.’  This statement strikes a chord with so many touched by autism because the effects are often wildly different in each case.  Even with such a wide spectrum of effects that autism can have, one that is very prevalent is being a picky eater.

At meal time in our home there are normally two meals served, dinner and a toned down autistic version of that same dinner.  If pasta is on the menu I make one plate before I add anything, a plate of noodles and sauce only. If we have pizza there are rituals that my son observes such as the traditional scraping off of all cheese.

Things to take into account when choosing new foods are color, texture, taste, & shape. Again, autism is  diverse spectrum with every child being different so make a game plan, take a deep breath, and read these 5 helpful tips to introduce new foods to your picky eater with autism.

  1. The Approach – Life is what you make of it and the same is true for many things when dealing with the special needs of those with autism.  Stay positive even in the face of failure remembering that big accomplishments are never made in a day!  Your approach with a positive attitude will pay off for you both in the long run. 
  2. The Compromise – Be ready for compromise and remember baby steps are still steps. Eating part of a food but not the other is still a win!  Texture, color, shape, & smell are all big hurdles for kids with autism.  Broccoli has different textures on both ends. A bite of one end but refusal of the other is a compromise but still a win! 
  3. The Bribe – While a full on bribe isn’t the way to go, positive reinforcement is key in these situations.  Some extra video game play time works for my son like hundred-dollar bills would work for me.
  4. The Food Fight – Figuratively and literally be ready for the food fight!  The whole process is an up hill battle that you are going to be on high alert for.  Dinner time is not always the right time.  Pick your battles, introducing the new food during play time or when a good mood is in full swing. 
  5. The Left / Right Combo – The left/right combo is a tricky one.  With your left hand on the food they love, combo with the right hand mixing in a bit of a new.  An example of this is transitioning from processed shells and cheese to home-made mac and cheese. Starting with the approach in a positive way about compromising on noodle shape, since everyone knows shell shaped noodles are the only acceptable noodles on the market. The bribe of some iPad time when you present the Shells & Cheese with a few elbow noodles mixed in.  When you reach this point its time for a food fight. In the end you may just have a plate with a few less elbow noodles and an easier time when you serve it this way next time.
Introducing new foods is a frustrating part of parenting a child with autism and a healthy diet is a constant struggle for many.  Being aware of problem foods is a big part of the entire process since  gastrointestinal issues often plague many on the spectrum.  Pediatrician recommended nutritional supplements and multi-vitamins offer a way to bridge the gap between your goal of a well-balanced diet that includes veggies and the realistic plate of frozen chicken nuggets on the table!  
The secret trick to getting your child with autism to try new foods is that there is no trick.  Every child is different and every approach needs adapted to what you know will work best for your situation.  In the end who knows your little one better than you?  These five tips for introducing new foods to picky eaters are now tools you have in your toolbox ready to use anytime your ready!