Feeding a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Your Top 5 Feeding Questions Answered

Having a child with Autism can pose unique day to day challenges, one of them being feeding. Being able to feed your child is a top priority of all parents, and when feeding becomes difficult a seemingly simple activity can suddenly feel daunting. In an effort to help families feel more equipped to address feeding concerns, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 most frequently asked feeding questions for children with Autism.

Please note the difficulties each child may face are unique. If you have concerns for your child’s feeding skills, please speak with your doctor regarding whether a Feeding Team Evaluation through Connecticut Children’s Medical Center would be beneficial.

My child is a picky eater. How can I increase the variety of foods he/she will eat?

  • Gradual exposure to similar foods, using pleasant and playful interactions (messy food play) often provides the most progress when working to expand variety. Start by looking for foods which share similar qualities to ones already accepted (similar shape, color, appearance).
  • Have your child be an active participant in meal prep by helping to prepare foods (placing into serving platters, cleaning vegetables) and aiding in clean-up routines to increase interaction with foods.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your child does not seem interested for the first few exposures. Chances are your child has been cautious around new foods for some time so it may take some time to develop greater interest and comfort in new foods. Be sure to acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts to explore the foods, no matter how small the effort may seem.

My child will gag at the smell/taste/texture/appearance of a certain food, what can I do?

  • There can be many reasons why your child is gagging, which may require evaluation by the Feeding Team.
  • For children without a medical reason for gagging, gradual exposure to the foods during non-mealtimes can help to decrease the gag response.
  • If your child gags at the site of the food in person, then have he or she look at pictures of that particular food in books or magazines before interacting with the food. Then, slowly increase interactions with the food.
  • Staying calm, and even offering encouragement (“you’re doing great”, “you’re so brave”, or applause with younger children) during gagging can help make an uncomfortable experience a little less unpleasant.

Is it okay to “sneak” foods into my child’s food? How many times should I offer a refused food?

  • Despite how tempting it might be to hide a new or non-preferred food in a preferred food, or fib about what the food really is, you should avoid doing so. It is better to slowly expose your child to the foods using the strategies outlined in question 1.
  • Though it may be tempting to stop introducing a new food after a child refuses it, it is actually best to continue to offer refused foods. It can often take repeated exposures to a food before it is accepted.

My doctor says my child is growing fine despite being a picky eater and that I should not worry. Should I still be concerned about my child’s nutrition?

  • If your child has eliminated an entire food group (such as dairy, meats, vegetables and fruits and/or grains) they could be at risk for nutritional inadequacies. You should ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian if your child has limited or eliminated any food group from his or her diet.


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