What treatment is available for food aversion in a child with autism?

Behavioral interventions can be used for food aversions in children with autism. Before doing an intervention, it is important to determine whether there is a sensory component to the child’s food aversion. For example, some children on the autism spectrum will not eat foods that are a particular consistency. A therapist would work with your child to slowly and systematically introduce new foods to your child’s diet.

One of the many challenges in caring for autistic children is food aversion, or extreme pickiness. The concern is that the child is eating unhealthy foods that lack some of the essential nutrition necessary to grow and stay healthy. Typically the therapies for food aversion and feeding disorders involve a registered dietitian, a speech-language pathologist, and sometimes an occupational therapist. Ask your pediatrician if he or she can recommend someone.
Elaine Koontz
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A child with a severe food aversion may be evaluated by a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a dietitian, a gastroenterologist and/or an otolaryngologist.

Prechaining involves making the base of the diet the foods that the child currently tolerates, and then other foods are very gradually introduced in very small amounts, with those that are acceptable being added to the list of foods frequently provided.

Often, parents are asked to videotape feedings in order to better create an appropriate treatment plan.

If the problem stems from trouble swallowing - a speech therapist and possibly an occupational therapist will make recommendations regarding positioning, food textures and consistency, or the use of special feeding devices.

Many children suffer from sensory integration issues at mealtimes. Examples include children who will only eat foods of certain consistency, temperature or texture. Some children are unable to perform oral requirements to suck, chew, or swallow. Children with these issues should be allowed the opportunity to feel the foods with their hands, because it helps them to process what the food is going to feel like inside their mouth. Prepare to clean up messes. Begin with small amounts, so that the portion will not appear as overwhelming.

Sometimes children with food aversion benefit from oral stimulation that is not food or nutrition related. Allow the child to suck on a wet washcloth, chew on a pacifier, or gum a frozen carrot. Try putting something sticky, such as marshmallow fluff, on the upper lip and have them suck it off.

Remove all stimulation at mealtime if the child is easily distracted. Other sensory stimulation can override hunger and successful eating. Turn off the television or radio, clear the table of items not related to the meal, and make sure the table is properly lit.

Everyone in the family should eat the same meal. Modify textures less and less as time goes on. If the goal is to eat baked potatoes and only mashed potatoes are tolerated, mash the potatoes a little less each time you make them (so they are more chunky) to help children get used to the difference slowly.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.