Beyond Nuggets – Food Aversion

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.

Getting Started

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.

Calming Sensory Strategies

Here are some simple yet effective calming strategies to help your kids regulate when overwhelmed:

Music Playing gentle music is soothing and allows the brain to fall back into a gentle pattern.

Other Sounds Waterfalls, soft drumming, nature sounds – try finding them on YouTube.

Lighting Soft lighting – fairy or dimmable night lights.

Mindful Colouring or reading.

Connect with Nature Go for a walk, create a treasure hunt and collect different objects you find or play a game of ISpy.

A mindful walk Listening to the sounds around you, looking at colours, taking in the different smells.

Playing with balloons Keep the balloon off the ground but have them move slowly and gently.

Texture bag Place several small objects in a bag. Have your child reach in and touch an object, one at a time, and describe what they are touching.

School Holiday Survival Guide

As the summer holidays approach, this time can be a cause of anxiety for children who are out of routine for 8 weeks as well as their parents and caregivers who may struggle to find things to do.

When you have the added stress of having a child with a disability, activities which other children and their families find fun could have the complete opposite affect due to extra crowd numbers and noise.

Every child is different, so finding the right activity is important. Here are some Adelaide (and surrounds) based activities to consider:

AT HOME

  • Arts and Craft – craft activities, painting, drawing, stickers, chalk
  • Water Play – buckets, cups, boats, balls, paintbrushes
  • Build a Castle – pillows, chairs, table, sheets
  • Create a Reading/Play Nook – move furniture, blankets, pillows, books
  • Sensory Play – shaving foam, play-doh, floof, slime, magnetic sand
  • Gross Motor Play – trampoline, fitball, musical instruments
  • Cooking

FREE COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

PAID COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

Helping Special Needs Parents

Caring for a child with special needs is challenging. It can also be thankless, relentless and make parents feel invisible within their friendship groups and families.

The best way to support carers is by making them feel like they are not alone in their struggles. Joining groups that are designed with carers in mind is a good option. I am a big advocate of Carers SA, soon to become the Carer Gateway in April 2020. However, not everyone wants to be a part of a group situation, preferring 1-1 support and familiar people only.

It is important to provide carers with choices about the type of support they need. It might be a peer support group, 1-1 counselling, carer outings or simply family and friend gatherings in supportive environments.

Providing a safe environment for the carer and the person they are caring for will be greatly appreciated and may work to ease the social isolation that many carers feel in their role. Planning inclusive events may require a little extra effort but asking questions of the carer about what would make it a more successful event for them, will go a long way in helping them feel enjoyment and a sense of belonging.

Here are some other practical ways you can help special needs parents.

Music

Listening and playing music has many benefits for our wellbeing, physical health and emotional regulation. It can keep us feeling happy, motivated and ease symptoms of depression.

While the above graphic references classical music, there is power in all types of music if it is enjoyed. Teenagers and small children are often drawn to and enjoy listening to music through YouTube, television, movies and gaming. And while the mode of sharing music is mostly digital or online in the modern world, it is possible to access the classics from previous generations if this is what you enjoy.

It is important to find music that you enjoy and a good place to find new music is to look on the current charts, take note of music you hear in the shows you like and look up songs and albums written and performed by the same artists. You can do this for free on platforms such as YouTube and Spotify. Add some headphones (noise cancelling if you want to remove environmental noise distractions), get listening and enjoy the benefits.

Be Grateful For What You Have

A short video powerfully depicting the importance of being grateful and mindful for what you have in life.

A little thing you can do to practice gratefulness is to keep a journal and write a point or two each day about the things you were grateful for. It could be as simple as a chat with a friend that made you feel special, a goodnight kiss from your child or a delicious cup of coffee that you didn’t have to make yourself. You will be surprised at how many beautiful moments we overlook each day. Take the time to remember and cherish them. If you wrote 2 each day, there would be 730 happy memories to be grateful for and mindful of each year.

The 7 Drops

Working with children can be a challenge, especially if they are not keen to work with you in return. This list outlining ‘The 7 Drops’ is something all practitioners and educators can try to aid building connections and relationships with the children they work with.

Drop your voice – lower your pitch. Show interest in what the child is doing with your voice, your facial expressions and body language.

Drop your body – get down to their level. If they are on the floor playing, ask to join in on what they are doing. Initiate taking turns if they will accept it.

Drop what you are doing – take your time to get to know them. Leave note-taking and other work for later, make spending time with them your priority.

Drop your guard – let them take risks. Encourage them to try different things and get messy and creative while doing it.

Drop your defences – keep your agenda to yourself. This is about the child’s development. Building a real connection and relationship needs to come from an authentic place. Set goals with the child so you are working towards the same outcomes.

Drop your batteries – turn your devices to silent and give them your full attention. This creates less distraction for you and good role-modelling for them.

Drop your misconception that fun is frivolous – learning through play is powerful. Rediscover your inner child and follow their lead. Have fun!

We Go Together

Finding and maintaining friendships can be difficult for many people but when you are a carer, it can feel impossible to find people who you truly connect with.

If you don’t have many friends, joining interest clubs such as a camera club, carer groups and activities, school events and online communities are some ways that you can find others who have similar interests as you.

Taking the time to build positive friendship connections increases your sense of well-being and gives you a wider world view. And by regularly talking to others, it can help reduce overall feelings of loneliness and isolation.

It is really important that when you find those connections with others that you take the time to nurture those people and share your highlights and lowlights equally. Make the time to listen to one another, have a laugh and support each other not only in the sad times but also in your endeavours and dreams.

People who are truly happy are out and about living life, enjoying their passions, doing good work and being good people. Chase your own passions and follow your own path. You will be amazed at who you find when your paths eventually cross. You will find those special people who ‘go together’ with you, who make you smile, who inspire you to do what you love and who believe in you, even when you struggle to believe in yourself.