Picky Eating & Autism Spectrum Disorder

Three-year-old Danny regularly eats only a few foods. To make matters worse, he has great difficulty even touching most foods, especially food covered with a sauce. His mom began the Baby Bite Steps, outlined in my book, Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater. After only a few weeks with the Baby Bite Steps, he was eating numerous foods which he previously rejected. One benefit of the Baby Bite Steps is that parents make a Preferred Food list for their picky child. It became evident that Danny was avoiding all foods with sauces. Multi-sensory learning is vital especially for picky eaters. Danny was encouraged to touch foods with sauces, even if he wouldn’t eat them.

His mom didn’t rush to clean off his fingers, but she talked about the various textures with him. She offered lots of positive reinforcement and praised him every time he complied with her request to touch new foods, especially foods in a sauce.

Because Danny had such difficulty in touching gooey foods, his mom made it a point to have him experience various textures while playing: finger painting, gluing paper objects, and making edible play dough. These activities use the hands as tools and eliminate any pressure of having to eat something with a gooey texture. A plus for any child is that these are fun activities.

Once touching sticky sauce-like substances is no longer difficult when playing, then touching and eating food with sauces won’t seem unpleasant.

Involve your child in multi-sensory culinary experiences.
Happy Pancakes are easy and fun to make for breakfast!

happypancake-web.JPGDanny’s mom noticed he had other difficulties surrounding tactile issues and she eventually had him tested by an Occupational Therapist. Danny had Sensory Processing Disorder, SPD, a neurological problem. It’s believed approximately 5 percent of children are found to have some level of SPD. The therapy is to integrate sensory-rich activities in a positive environment.

Children with SPD may have difficulty with motor coordination (either gross or fine). Perhaps they’ll refuse to walk barefoot in the sand or on the grass.

There can be huge issues surrounding teeth brushing, getting hands dirty, and they may dislike having their head touched when brushing, washing and drying their hair. Sometimes the texture of some clothing and labels overly irritate the child with SPD.

If you see a link between other tactile issues and avoidance of foods with a certain texture, a child may be exhibiting sensitivity defensiveness. It’s wise to ask your pediatrician about having an evaluation for SPD by an occupational therapist.

Not all picky eaters have SPD, but most children with SPD are picky eaters, because of their over-responsiveness to tactile sensations. They many times will eat a limited number of foods, and may completely avoid certain textures and food groups. Of course this may impact their overall health.

The Baby Bite Steps uses positive reinforcement, while engaging a picky eater in directed-play. This conditions a positive response to various food textures. Adjust your timetable for kids with SPD. Consistency and praising your child for small steps are even more vital for the “out-of-sync” child.

Although not an official diagnosis, some like Dr. Jacquelyn McCandless, place SPD as a part of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is a broad category, including diagnosis from Sensory Processing Disorder to Attention Deficit Disorder to Autism to Aspergers Disorder. One constant is that these children are usually picky eaters, preferring the very foods that make their problems worse.

Parents of children with SPD have seen remarkable improvement using the Baby Bite Steps, especially when combined with improving “gut dysfunction.” Jaquelyn McCandless, M.D. says that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex biomedical illness resulting in “significant brain malnutrition.”

There’s emerging evidence that, once nutritional concerns have been addressed, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder improve at some level. While the nutritional treatment will vary, there seems to be agreement that all children with Autism Spectrum Disorder improve with diets free from refined sugar, white flour, and food additives. In addition, they usually benefit from probiotics and cod liver oil. Once Danny began taking both cod liver oil and a probiotic formulated for children, he experienced another giant step toward health.

Click Here for a synopsis of Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater.

One thought on “Picky Eating & Autism Spectrum Disorder

  1. saundra peavyhouse says:

    My granddaughter diagnosed Aspergers,honor student,senior in highschool is most obviously handicapped when she is eating. She will be attending community college. Do you think she could become aware enough at this stage to change (modify) her manners when she is alone (not with family). I just feel so helpless to help. I feel this is one of the only areas her parents may have let her down, as they have been great and loving parents for this beautiful child.

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