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Your relationship with your child is so important to his social and emotional well being — now and throughout his lifetime. You spend the most time living with and loving your child. You have the greatest commitment to his development and lifelong happiness. But autism can make it hard to connect with your child. And because each child expresses autism in an individual way, it can be a confusing, frustrating, and time consuming process to find ways to support your child’s specific needs. We know. We’re there too.

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Growing a Foodie, Part 3

Last time I shared some dinner table techniques I use to get my son to try new foods. Check them out here and here. But I want to move beyond the dinner table and share some of the things I learned while teaching my son to expand beyond a food jag or to let go of some of his pickiness. Over all, I found I had to adjust my ways with food just like him. As with everything, we are in this together!

1) Patience and empathy

Trying to get your child to eat a variety of foods can take a long, long time. This is a process and focusing on that instead of on the result will help you take the presssure off – yourself and your child.

When taking the first steps on this road, try to put yourself in your child’s place. I am somewhat adventurous with food, but I also have some issues. It’s those issues, that have allowed me to relate to my son’s. I have food jags too. I eat my Rice Chex every morning, without fail. I have a major sensory issue as well- crunching an onion in my mouth freaks me out. And if I’m stressed, I don’t reach for a carrot, I look for chocolate. When I keep all this in mind, I am much more patient with my son’s eating habits. And that patience and understanding allows me to invite change rather than force it.

2)  Go Slow

The best thing I learned from the gluten free/casein free diet had nothing to do with that diet. When my son was a toddler, his go-to foods were grapes and Cheerios. We started the gf/cf diet, so the Cheerios had to go. However, we weren’t one of those families who were able to go cold turkey onto the diet. I envied those who could pull that off.

We could eliminate foods only as we found a substitute that our son liked to eat. It took almost a year before we found alternatives that worked. It worked for our family to take it slow because it set a pattern of actively looking for foods that our son would try, no matter how long it took to find an acceptable food. The gf/cf diet may not be for your child, but you can still try a slow and steady approach to finding new, acceptable foods.

3)  Status quo is OK sometimes

Once we found foods our son liked that met his basic nutritional needs, he stuck with those for years. Sometimes it was literally five to 10 food that he would eat. I wasn’t always actively addressing this issue of limited foods, because I noticed that if he had the same food at mealtimes, he was able to focus on meeting expectations at the table. He didn’t have anxiety over the food, so we can work on other, more social, goals. Like how to use his utensils, or to clean up afterwards, or to converse with us at the table. It was too hard for him to try to master those skills while also trying new foods. On the plus side, his limited diet also cut down on unhealthy food choices. Although there wasn’t variety, it was all relatively healthy food. I felt comforted by this, which increased my patience with the process.

4)  Don’t you love schedules?

One thing that helped my son’s anxiety, when I started introducing some variety into the lunch he brought to school, was making a schedule so he would know what food he would be eating that day. Eventually, we fell back on consistent favorites for lunch and saved the variety for meals at home. And the only reason he was able to try some different foods when he went away to camp is because they provided a meal schedule beforehand that I could go over with him before he went to camp. He knew what to expect so it was okay.

I hope these first four strategies will help you navigate this food journey with your child. Taking a step back, reminding yourself of the process and applying what you know works for your child in other settings will keep you on track and happily pursuing the next food adventure.

Next, I will continue with these top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Discover the final four here!

Learn even more strategies for growing a foodie at our upcoming class on February 28!

Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4 of “Growing a Foodie.”

Growing a Foodie, Part 2

Last week I started us off on my journey through expanding my son’s food choices. Here are the next four tips in my top seven Eating Adventures strategies. Refresh yourself on the first three here!

4)  Try again . . . and again . . . and again . . . 

Keep this in mind – it takes 10 tries before our brains decide whether we truly like a food or not. So even if your child refuses the food, it is worth trying again. If our son is skeptical about trying something new, we just have him eat one or two pieces and wait until the next meal to try again. However, if the first piece makes him gag, then we know he’s not ready for it to be introduced over and over. We put it on our “try again in six months” list.

5)  The first step is just one bite

So this is great advice, but how do you even get your child to take that first bite? Not always easily, I’ll admit. Putting one piece on his small plate reduces his anxiety since he can literally see it will be just one bite. When we try again, I might try two pieces. Or I might up it to six pieces on the plate, depending on his reaction to that first bite.

When he protests, I will tell him he only has to eat three pieces. In this moment, he thinks he has ‘won.’ Or I remind him to close his eyes since that seems to help him take a bite. Sometimes the way a food looks – so new, so strange – is the barrier he needs to move beyond. We have made it a routine to put new foods in front of him, so that it’s an everyday thing.  If you can make the unknown, predictable, that is half the battle.

6)  Exposure can be a first step

There are some preferred foods that our son absolutely will not try in another form. One is his adored rice pasta. I would love it if he could try plain old rice, but I guess all those little grains are just too weird for him. In this case it is helping him to see us eat rice. I offer it to him each time we eat it. He says “no” and that’s okay; sometimes he needs to feel like he has some control over the situation. I just say, “maybe next time,” which he actually processes as a possibility over time. The fact that rice is present on the table at least exposes him to it as a real food that he may eat someday. Offering a bite each time we eat it lets him know, concretely, that it is also for him, not just for us.

7)  Dessert is not a weapon, it is our friend

When I was a kid, without fail, along with my sandwich and a piece of fruit, I always had cookies in my brown bag lunch at school. We also always had dessert after dinner, whether it was fruit or Hostess Ho Ho’s. I learned that because dessert was always a part of the meal, at some point I would get something fun like chocolate or cake. I also learned that it’s okay to have sweet treats at certain times, not all the time. My husband’s mom was a great baker so he has a certain expectation of sweet treats on a regular basis as well. Consequently, dessert is always an option in our house.

We never offer, or take away, dessert (or any other favorite food) depending on whether our son tries the new food or not because we also know this would ratchet up his anxiety, not reduce it. Since my son responds so well to verbal praise (heck, I respond well to verbal praise), we just give appropriate praise when he does try a new food, even if it’s just one bite. If he is not able to take a bite, we always say, “maybe next time” and nonchalantly go on with the meal. The meal stays calm, and dessert is just dessert then, not a big deal.

These are all the dinner-table specific techniques we learned on our Eating Adventures with our son. But the journey doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned a few more things that have also helped the eating process in our home. I will go beyond the dinner table in my next posts.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. more >>

Missed it? Read Growing a Foodie, Part 1

Go beyond the dinner table in Part 3 and Part 4

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