Friday, March 8, 2013

The Food Fight

Izaiah 'cheeking' his food.

Autism and sensory issues have the mega-ability to usurp the joy right out of mealtime. As parents, we need to handle it gracefully by helping our kids through each day. I've been 'schooled' by the oldest autist in our house and the younger one is benefiting immensely so I thought I'd share what I've learned.  These may or may not help at your house, but these ideas helped ease my kids to the table so we can enjoy precious family meal time.

First,  ages 3, 4, 5 are difficult and working with your child instead of against her, will help you both. What she will eat is your friend, so focus on that.  Food issues may have been present at birth, or they can pop up during these trying years.

Second, many young autists know exactly what their mouths and bodies can handle, so if your child will only eat chicken nuggets, then let it be. My oldest autist was gluten-free before gluten-free was cool just by her own self-imposed diet! I am not talking about allowing junk food ~ please don't misunderstand me.  But, until you can creatively introduce foods they will accept, allow them to eat what feels SAFE for them.

Third, some foods like potatoes, noodles, breads, cakes, and soft cookies can cause choking. Forcing them will scare your child and you will get nowhere like this.  Understand the realness of the sensory disorder happening.  Never force feed a person with oral sensory issues or shove food in their mouths. Only put food in a child's mouth when they have seen the food and have 'okay-ed it' for you to do so.  Let them control.

Proof that Grazing Works!
Fourth, your child may refuse to dine at the table. It has been my experience that allowing the child to graze instead (coming to the table for a nibble, then toddling off to play until she returns again for another nibble) can restore peace. Eating involves the other senses like: food textures, tastes, smells, the ability to use eating utensils (if you see a refusal to do this, fine motor complications may be at play), the sounds of other people, how much space those people take up, the lighting around the dinner table, even the color of the walls, or windows in the dining area may be an issue.  So, understand, it's not about Mom's cooking, there's so much more happening TO the child (not the child acting out), so don't feel insulted.

Izaiah joining us for a meal, at the age of 3.  Wooo!
Fifth, old sayings such as, "you're gonna eat what I fix you!" or "I'm not your personal, 24 hour, cook!" or "we're going to sit down as a family!" or "you're gonna clean up your plate," are not applicable here. Having a child with autism, sensory issues, or central auditory processing issues (and many others!) means life is not business as usual. Autism and/or sensory issues are not a discipline issue. It's not about morals, values, or traditions. There can be serious oral and sensory issues at play. Refusing to understand is really putting our own selfish needs first. All that family meal time we want so bad will come, but the child needs to acclimate first.  Instead of having the 'show' of family on the outside, let's have it for real on the inside first by showing compassion and sensitivity. Finally having that family meal one day will mean so much more after having been patient.

Sixth, always keep their favorite foods/snacks on hand.  You can prevent many public meltdowns by being prepared. Having that snack and drink readily available will go a long way.  Don't forget, if you travel for visiting friends/relatives, you'll need to bring their food along.

Seventh, introduce new foods slowly, always provide their favorites along with the newbies and count on them not being touched.  If it's very important for things like veggies, utilize juicers, smoothies, and purees, to sneak them in.  Even then, introduce them slowly.

Izaiah holds my hand (controls) while I teach him to bite.
1.   Get creative with veggies and fruits. Try juicing or smoothies.
2.   Hide veggies in hamburger patties or meatloaf.
3.   Add fruit to cookies or granola bars.
4.   Have crunchy foods like raw veggies,
      gluten free chips and crackers, nuts. 
5.   Always have foods your child WILL eat alongside foods you want to introduce. Be patient!
6.   Have a good, logical, reason why he should try a new food.  For example, "Wow! Did you know you and your guinea pig can share a meal if you both eat carrot sticks?"
7.   Work with what you have. If your child only drinks liquids, smoothies are your friend! 
8.   Have perseverations nearby or allow them on the table during meal time. You'll increase the chances of your child hanging around longer at mealtime.
9.   Think of having your child in the same room comparable to having him at the dining table.  It's okay!
10.  Be observant.  Does your child bite into her food?  If not, you may need some therapy.  Does your child only eat finger food?  If so, fine motor skills could be the issue.  Does your child cheek his food?  If so, don't worry! It will go away on it's own. Clear out food before he sleeps to prevent choking.
11. Is your child a healthy weight and does he have good teeth?  If so, then don't worry so much!

 Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young autists. Her own autists are finicky, picky eaters!  Her oldest at age 9 has (excitingly!) about 7 items on her menu now!!  Her youngest is a meat-a-tarian and gets his veggies pureed into his home-made hamburger patties.  Today, both of them sit at the table for meals most of the time. You can check out Annie's children's books about autism at Ashi's Gift Website.


1 Corinthians 10:31 says, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  According the apostle Paul, we should always do our best to love others. We should never use our liberty to be unkind. Putting others' needs first including our children with special needs at mealtime is a fabulous way to glorify God.  These are actually HIS kids that he has trusted us with for a very short time.  So don't let a silly thing like mealtime get in the way of robbing us of our joy! 


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! beautiful in all of it's parts Annie :)

    1. Thanks Bird!! Love that you're always around. Means a lot to me. Love!!