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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 4

It’s time to continue with our top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Refresh yourself on the first four here!

5)  Is it a motor planning thing?

Sometimes physical barriers keep your child stuck in a food avoidance pattern. Our son was not wild about meat, partly because he had trouble chewing it. As he got used to using his back teeth to chew (with the help of one of those sensory chews his occupational therapist provided), he was able to chew the meat better and found he liked it. He needs his protein, and meat is his main source. So discover if physical limitations are behind your child’s refusal to eat certain foods.

6)  Expected behaviors apply to mealtime too

Trying new foods and appropriate mealtime behavior are part of the expected behaviors we have for our son, and we try to reinforce this through explanations of what those behaviors are. These explanations are like a verbal Social Story in our house. You could always write your own Social Stories for each of the issues your child may be facing at mealtimes, whether is is trying a new food or staying at the table. Parents sometimes think eating should be an intuitive process, but I have found my son needs as much explanation, modeling and reinforcement with eating as he does in other challenging areas of his life.

7)  Experts can help

It’s worth considering a multi-vitamin to make sure your child is getting the vitamins and minerals she needs. Consult with your doctor if you are worried about your child’s nutrition. Our doctor was able to reassure us that our son’s growth chart was just fine, even with his limited diet. Try an occupational therapist if you have concerns about your child’s aversion to certain textures and tastes. And there are several centers that offer food clinics, where they specifically focus on addressing issues that interfere with eating. (See comments section for other local feeding clinics.)

8)  I’m too tired

There is one more reason why it can take so long to get my son to eat new foods: sometimes I just don’t have the energy to make the effort. Or the energy I have may need to go toward another issue that he is dealing with. I’ve learned that’s okay. If I’m stressing about finding foods for him, it doesn’t help. I love food and family dinners, so ultimately I want to make mealtime enjoyable, for all of us.

Taking it slow and steady helped keep me and my son relaxed during his process of learning to eat. I never thought curried lentils would be a standard meal in our house. But through helping our son try new foods, he has found a surprising favorite, and we did too!

This wasn’t enough, right? Discover the rest of Margaret’s tips and more at Food and Autism on February 28! more info>>

Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 to discover all of Margaret’s great tips!

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.”

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