Increasing Food Preferences in Children with Autism

Autism Jun 17, 2021

Food selectivity can be pretty common in today’s world, but for individuals with autism, it can be quite difficult introducing new foods to their diet. In today’s blog, we’re going to talk about selective eating habits, possible reasons on why that may be the case, and some ways to potentially introduce new foods to your child’s diet.

One major factor to consider when thinking about increasing your child’s food selection is whether they are refusing new foods simply because they don’t want to try them, or if it’s due to an allergy, intolerance, or even discomfort caused by eating the food. Due to these possible concerns, it’s a good idea to consult with your child’s pediatrician first to rule out any medical conditions. Once the doctor rules out potential medical issues, they can also offer suggestions on which foods could be good to introduce first.

After being given the go-ahead by the pediatrician, a plan should be made for how new foods will be introduced into your child’s diet by consulting with their therapy providers. This could include their BCBA, Occupational Therapists, and Speech Language Pathologists. It’s important to start with only one or two new foods, typically foods the family often eats during meals, and heavily reinforce any success your child achieves, whether it’s big or small. It’s not always reasonable to expect your child to immediately eat a new food, especially when first beginning the introduction of new foods as a whole. Many children may engage in challenging behaviors just by the sight of a non-preferred food, so instead of trying to make your child eat it the first time, it may be best to implement a desensitization protocol to get them used to seeing or being near the food. Once your child is used to seeing the food, you can work on touching the food to their lips, and then from there begin eating it. Portion size is another important factor to consider when your child begins eating a new food. The sight of a full plate of a new food can sometimes cause refusal on the spot, so starting with only a small piece on the plate can increase the likelihood of your child attempting to eat the new food. By breaking it up into smaller goals like this, it increases the likelihood of success and minimizes the chances of setbacks.

A good way to reinforce your child trying new or non-preferred foods is to pair them with highly preferred foods. For example, if your child really likes goldfish, they may be much more willing to tolerate touching or eating the non-preferred food if they know they will get goldfish afterwards. As they become more used to the new food, you can try gradually increasing the expectation for what your child needs to do in order to receive the preferred food, such as moving from touching the food to their lips to taking one bite of it, then from one bite to two bites, and so on. It’s also important to note that, even if your child struggles with trying new foods, providing verbal praise for attempting is always recommended. Being praised for earlier attempts, even if unsuccessful, could make them more likely to succeed in the future.

It’s highly beneficial to begin introducing new foods early on, as the older a child gets, the more difficult it could be to expand food preferences down the road; however, regardless of when you begin the process with your child, the most important thing is to be patient with them. It may take some time to make progress when you first begin a feeding program, but as your child gets used to trying new foods, they may start making progress at a faster rate on later foods down the road.

Thank you so much for reading! If you are currently receiving ABA services with us, and are interested in addressing your child’s food selectivity, please reach out to us for strategies and advice geared towards your child’s specific needs. Have a great day, and make sure to stay updated on what’s new with Golden State by following our social media and checking our blogs for more helpful tips!