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Autism and eating

Lots of children go through periods of picky eating. For many, this phase will pass as the child gradually learns to accept new foods. For children with autism and their families, overcoming eating challenges can be more difficult. 

Over two thirds of parents of autistic children report that their child is reluctant to try new food. Moreover, other behaviours such as eating or mouthing non-edible items, and extreme food selectivity can make providing sufficient nutrition hard.

To coincide with the opening of our new kitchen at Park House School we have prepared a range of resources for understanding, identifying and tackling eating challenges.

Understanding eating difficulties

89% of autistic children display some form of difficulty with eating². This can range from selective eating, to anorexia or ARFID (Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder). Find out more about the common food disorders for autistic people.

Spotting the signs

There are many behavioural and physical signs that might indicate if a person is having issues around eating. This may indicate that they have an eating disorder or they may simply need some additional support. Find out more about what to look out for. Providing early support can be crucial and particularly in young people could help to reduce the impact on their education.

If you are concerned about your child’s eating it’s important to talk with your child’s GP, paediatrician or a dietitian. This will help to rule out any underlying causes such as gastrointestinal problems and allergies.  

How to address eating difficulties

There are a number of things you can do to try and increase variety within a diet and promote healthy eating. Take a look at our resources below to find out what steps you could take.

10 tips for healthy eating

From changes to the environment to having fun and making a mess, take a look at our top tips for healthy eating.

Top tips for healthy eating
Food modifications

Food modifications look to promote positive experiences with food. Making small changes step by step to introduce new foods, different tastes and textures. Find out more about food modifications here.

Food modifications example
Visual recipes

Using visual recipes can be a great way of introducing new foods. Playing with new textures, shapes and tastes can help to expand diets. Be as creative and messy as you like. If you’re looking for inspiration take a look at our gingerbread man art recipe!

Gingerbread man art visual recipe
Making food fun

Play can be a great way of increasing exposure to new foods without the pressure of eating. From making instruments using to an obstacle course for toy cars out of grains, take a look through our ideas for having fun with food!

Food art, animals made out of pancakes and fruit

1. Rogers, L.G., Magill-Evans, J. & Rempel, G.R. Mothers’ Challenges in Feeding their Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder—Managing More Than Just Picky Eating. J Dev Phys Disabil 24, 19–33 (2012).
2. Ledford, J. R., & Gast, D. L. (2006). Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders a review. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21(3), 153-166

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