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.

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.

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!

Say Hello

Start teaching, ‘say hello’.

Taking a child with a disability out into the community is often accompanied by other adults averting their eyes or pretending not to see you, especially if your child is making high pitched noises or moving awkwardly. If these adults are also parents, you might hear them tell their children tersely, ‘don’t stare’ before quickly moving their children away from you and the offending noise.

When I arrive at my son’s school to pick him up, there is always one student there who comes running to the gate and who I affectionately call the welcoming committee. She is always on the look out for parents, letting teachers know whose parent has turned up and even giving updates on how far away your child is. She is the first to smile and wave to me and I always make sure I get out of the car, regardless of how busy or tired I am to go over and say hello. Sometimes children who are non-verbal also wander up to me curiously and I always make sure to warmly greet them too, offering them a high five as this is the way they greet each other at school.

Wouldn’t it be incredible for parents to start teaching their children to ‘say hello’, instead of ‘don’t stare’? So don’t avert your eyes – it takes a few seconds to warmly smile and say hello, even better if this is followed by a friendly wave or a high five. Such simple gestures can make the world of difference in someone else’s life and have the power to change their whole day for the better.

Let’s Communicate

My son Micah is 11 years old. Micah is autistic and has an intellectual disability and while he’s predominantly non-verbal in terms of having a fluent conversation with anyone, he’s in possession of a multitude of strategies for not only speaking words but also communicating about the things he is interested in.

If you were to meet Micah, he would likely be largely non-responsive to your attempts to communicate verbally with him outside of him possibly saying hello and goodbye to you. A few years ago, with the help of his speech therapist, we purchased an app called Touch Chat. Touch Chat is a communication system which also includes a keyboard page and it is through this page that we discovered that Micah can actually read many words and that he can also type, even using predictive text when he needs help. Despite him being limited in communicating verbally through his own words, he can read and write at a much higher level. Through this discovery, a whole new way to communicate with Micah was born!

Armed with this new knowledge, I begun introducing Micah to levelled readers, starting at level 1. Levelled readers use and build upon common sight words and my prime motivation for him was that he learn to identify and understand these. This is Micah reading a level 3E reader, Racing Cars:

Following on from this, Micah begun ‘scripting’ from the shows he likes to watch, attempting to verbally copy the script and singing along to the Thomas the Tank Engine song which includes the words at the bottom. This is a video he created himself and posted on You Tube:

Pushing himself further, Micah also created his own script while reading a favourite book of Thomas the Tank Engine. Here he records himself singing happy birthday in response to what he sees on the page, which is a birthday party and blowing the candles on the Thomas cake he sees coming out of the doorway:

Micah, as do many around the world, loves You Tube. As Micah has learned to type, it has become easier for him to search You Tube for the content he’s most interested in. Sometimes this content is not able to be found and he needs to search elsewhere. A few months ago, Micah started to record shows he enjoys from dvd’s and other websites which host this content and started posting them himself to You Tube. Mostly they are small snippets of the part of the show he enjoys, usually a script between characters or the opening sequence. In this recording, he’s shows 8 seconds of Team Umizoomi. It’s not a lot of time, but it has been viewed 1220 times:

Again, pushing himself forward. He has since created a video of himself playing with his own Team Umizoomi toys, using vocalisations:

These are small examples of what Micah can do and the diverse ways he can communicate with the world. While most of the content he independently uploads to You Tube, I make private for his own use – I do allow some small videos to remain public. The amazing thing about the written word for Micah and creating videos is that that scripting he has seen somehow unlocks his own verbal capacity and the words flow from him more effortlessly. It gives him the power to create his own narrative in life and that is simply amazing for him.

All Kids Want To Play

“All kids want to play. Kids with disabilities are no different. “Ian” is a short, animated film inspired by the real-life Ian, a boy with a disability determined to get to the playground despite his playmates bullying him. This film sets out to show that children with disabilities can and should be included”.

Short Film about Playground Inclusion wins International Acclaim: Article