Many children with ASD have very particular food palates and this can cause a lot of stress at home when this palate will not go beyond their restrictive favourites – often chicken nuggets which are dry, crunchy and very predictable in smell and texture.
I often get asked how to help children explore different foods and this is not a simple process. Often aversions can be related not only to texture, but the mixing of foods (ie spaghetti bolognaise), the temperature and how it is presented. For instance, eating a strawberry may not be palatable using fingers but may be accepted using a fork or given pureed in a fruit pouch. Experimenting with different cutlery, divided food dishes (so foods are not touching) and in different forms is a good first step.
The “SOS Approach To Feeding” could be tried to help expand a child’s view of food. This can be a very slow process and needs a lot of time and patience. Please do speak to a qualified speech pathologist or eating therapist who can help guide you through the steps if you need more assistance and support.
Step 1 Choose the right food to encourage: Consider some foods that are similar to the ones that your child already tolerates eg if they like chicken nuggets, try chicken schnitzel and also choose a food to try that is as consistent and familiar as possible.
Step 2 Start at a distance: Present the food away from your child, then move it closer once tolerated.
Step 3 Discover the food together: What are its colours, texture, temperature etc?
Step 4 Get closer: If your child feels confident, they may be able to move the food with a utensil, pick it up with their fingers or touch it to their body (on their arm or leg, for instance) or face. It’s important that all exploration is done in a fun and playful manner as we learn most, and will challenge ourselves most, when we are having fun.
Step 5 Once it feels ok to have a food around the mouth, you might be able to touch or hold it with the lips, then a lick or three seconds on the tongue.
Step 6 Rockets and Spit Cups: Once your child feels comfortable playing and exploring with food around their mouth, it’s time to include rocketing (spitting it out with some force while you yell rocket!) into the bin and using a spit cup. The spit cup is especially helpful as it will allow your child to taste, bite or crunch a food without pressure to swallow it. From there, multiple chews may be possible and eventually a swallow.