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how to help an autistic child to eat

How to Help an Autistic Child to Eat – Making Mealtime Easy

Feeding an autistic child can be a challenging experience. Sensory issues and food aversions often make mealtime stressful and overwhelming for both you and your child. However, with patience and persistence, you can help your child develop better eating habits and make mealtimes more enjoyable.

In this article, we’ll explore strategies for improving eating habits in autistic children, including how to address autism feeding difficulties and sensory issues that may impact your child’s ability to eat. By creating a sensory-friendly eating environment and encouraging self-feeding skills, you can help your child develop a more varied and balanced diet.

So if you’re struggling with feeding your autistic child, don’t worry. With these tips and tricks, you can make mealtime easy and stress-free for both you and your child.

Understanding Feeding Difficulties in Autism

If you’re the parent or caregiver of an autistic child, you may have experienced difficulties during mealtime due to sensory issues and food aversions. These challenges are common in autism and can lead to limited food intake, poor nutrition, and added stress for both you and your child.

Sensory issues, such as sensitivity to certain textures or tastes, can make it difficult for autistic children to tolerate and enjoy different foods. Food aversions, on the other hand, are when a child develops a strong dislike or fear of certain foods, often due to past negative experiences or sensory issues.

It’s important to understand that feeding difficulties in autism are not the result of picky eating or stubbornness. These challenges are a real part of the condition and may require patience and persistence to overcome.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Eating Environment

If your autistic child has feeding difficulties, creating a sensory-friendly eating environment can help make mealtimes less stressful. Here are some tips to make mealtime easier:

  • Choose a quiet and calm environment for meals, free of distractions like TV, music or toys.
  • Use dim lighting or natural light to create a relaxing atmosphere.
  • Consider the temperature of the room – some children may prefer a warmer or cooler environment.
  • Use a consistent seating arrangement and avoid sudden changes to the dining area.
  • Limit the number of utensils and dishes on the table and use familiar ones that your child is comfortable with.

Introducing new foods to your child can be challenging. Here are some additional tips to try:

  • Start with small portions and gradually increase the amount over time.
  • Use food as a reward or positive reinforcement for trying new foods.
  • Encourage your child to take an interest in food preparation and cooking, which can help foster a positive attitude towards new foods.
  • Try presenting foods in different ways, such as cutting them into fun shapes or serving them in different colours.
  • Consult with a healthcare professional or dietician for suggestions on how to incorporate new foods into your child’s diet.

Remember, it may take time for your child to adjust to new foods and eating habits. Patience and persistence are key to helping your autistic child develop a positive relationship with food.

Encouraging Self-Feeding Skills in Autistic Children

Encouraging self-feeding skills in autistic children can be a challenging task, but with persistence and patience, it can be achieved. By promoting independence at mealtimes, you can help your child develop important motor skills and confidence.

Here are some strategies to keep in mind:

Start small: Begin by introducing small finger foods that are easy to pick up, such as cut-up fruits or vegetables, small pieces of cheese, or crackers. Gradually increase the size of the foods as your child becomes more comfortable with self-feeding.

Use visual aids: Visual aids, such as pictures or drawings of utensils, can help your child understand the purpose of each utensil and how to use them properly.

Provide support: Offer guidance and support as your child learns to feed themselves. You can start by holding the utensil with your child and gradually decrease your assistance over time.

Make it fun: Incorporate fun and playful elements into mealtimes, such as brightly coloured utensils or colourful plates. This can help keep your child engaged and interested in the process of self-feeding.

Be patient: Remember that learning self-feeding skills takes time and practice. Encourage your child to keep trying, even if they experience initial frustration or difficulty.

By following these strategies, you can help your child develop the important skills needed for self-feeding. Remember to always provide a supportive and encouraging environment, and seek professional guidance if needed.

Promoting Positive Mealtime Experiences

For autistic children, mealtime can often be a stressful and overwhelming experience. However, there are strategies you can use to promote a positive mealtime experience for your child.

One important aspect is routine. Try to establish a consistent meal schedule, with set times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This can help your child feel more secure and prepared for mealtime.

Visual supports can also be beneficial. You can use pictures or a visual schedule to show your child what to expect during the meal. This can be especially helpful for children who struggle with transitions or changes in routine.

Positive reinforcement is another key strategy. Praising and rewarding your child for good eating behaviour can help build their confidence and encourage them to try new foods. You can use verbal praise, stickers, or small treats as rewards.

When serving meals, make sure to offer a variety of foods that your child enjoys. This can help increase their interest in trying new things. Additionally, involving your child in meal preparation or grocery shopping can help them become more invested in the process.

Finally, make mealtime a positive and enjoyable experience for the whole family. Eating together can provide opportunities for socialization and bonding. However, if your child is particularly sensitive to noise or stimulation, consider a quiet corner or separate seating area to help them feel more comfortable.

By implementing these strategies, you can help promote positive mealtime experiences for your autistic child, while also improving their eating habits and overall well-being.

Nutritional Considerations for Autistic Children

Ensuring a balanced diet is particularly important for autistic children, who may have unique nutritional needs. Here are some strategies for improving their eating habits:

1. Offer a Variety of Nutritious Foods

Offering a variety of healthy foods can help ensure your child gets the nutrients they need. Try incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein into their meals. Gradually introduce new foods and flavours to expand their palate.

2. Consider Nutritional Supplements

In some cases, autistic children may require nutritional supplements to meet their dietary needs. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if your child needs a supplement, and if so, which type and dosage is appropriate for them.

3. Avoid Restrictive Diets

Avoid putting your child on restrictive diets, such as a gluten-free or casein-free diet, without consulting a healthcare professional first. These diets can limit important sources of nutrients and may not be necessary for your child.

4. Address Feeding Issues Promptly

If your child has difficulty eating or refuses to eat certain foods, address these issues promptly with a healthcare professional. These issues can lead to nutritional deficiencies and may require the assistance of a feeding specialist.

5. Work with a Healthcare Professional

A healthcare professional, such as a dietitian or paediatrician, can help you develop a nutrition plan that meets your child’s individual needs. They can also provide guidance on feeding issues and nutritional supplements.

By following these nutritional considerations, you can help your autistic child develop healthy eating habits and meet their unique dietary needs.

Working with Therapists or Specialists for Feeding Challenges

It can be overwhelming to address feeding challenges in autistic children, but working with a therapist or specialist can make a significant difference. By collaborating with a professional, you can develop a personalized plan that caters to your child’s unique needs and challenges.

There are various professionals who can assist in addressing feeding difficulties in autism, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and dietitians. These experts can provide insights into how to address sensory issues, improve motor skills, and develop a balanced and varied diet for your child.

Therapists and specialists can also provide guidance on how to introduce new foods gradually and help your child develop a positive relationship with mealtimes. They can also offer support with developing self-feeding skills and creating a sensory-friendly eating environment.

It’s important to note that every child with autism has unique challenges and needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing feeding difficulties. Working with a specialist ensures that the plan is tailored to your child’s specific needs and goals.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist or specialist for support. They can provide valuable insights and support for you and your child on your feeding journey.


Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of our guide on helping an autistic child to eat. We hope that you’ve found our strategies and tips helpful in improving your child’s eating habits.

Remember, it’s important to be patient and understanding when working with an autistic child. Feeding difficulties can be challenging, but with persistence and the right support, you can help your child develop a healthy and varied diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common challenges of feeding an autistic child?

Feeding an autistic child can be challenging due to sensory issues and food aversions that often accompany autism. These challenges can impact eating habits and make it difficult for a child to try new foods.

How can I create a sensory-friendly eating environment for my autistic child?

Creating a calm and sensory-friendly eating environment is important for autistic children. You can do this by reducing distractions, using visual supports, and introducing new foods gradually.

How can I encourage self-feeding skills in my autistic child?

Promoting independence and self-feeding skills in autistic children can be done by providing strategies to develop motor skills and building their confidence in feeding themselves.

What can I do to make mealtimes more enjoyable for my autistic child?

Making mealtimes more enjoyable for your autistic child can be achieved through establishing routine, using visual supports, and providing positive reinforcement.

Are there any nutritional considerations for autistic children?

Yes, autistic children may have unique nutritional considerations. It’s important to ensure they receive a balanced diet and consult with a healthcare professional to address any specific dietary needs.

Can working with therapists or specialists help with feeding challenges in autism?

Yes, working with therapists or specialists can be beneficial in addressing feeding challenges in autism. They can help create a personalized plan for your child and provide guidance throughout the process.

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