The following post was written by Nicole Bureau, a wonderful pre-school Special Education Teacher, and friend of mine. Help me welcome Nicole to my website as a new contributing author. I hope you will all keep a look out for more posts as she shares her expertise and advice about what she’s learned and what works with in her classroom. Now, I’m handing this post over to Nicole.
We have all heard the stories of the child with autism who will only eat certain foods. Many who may see this will say, “Oh they are just picky.” However, if you have experienced this you know that it is more than just being picky. It can go as far as only certain brands or certain foods from specific places. I will never forget a story I heard when I attended a feeding conference for kids with Autism. This woman was at her wit’s end and said her child would only eat a type of nut if they were a specific brand (a more expensive purchase).
Determined get her child to eat a different brand of the same nut, she put a different brand into the same nut container that the child would eat. She was convinced she had him beat. Low and behold, after one bite the child had figured out that the brand of nut was not the right one and refused to eat anymore. From a third party perspective, I was chuckling inside because I have done the same things (not with food) and like this woman, the child was too sm, art and figured it out.
What do you do when your autistic child will only eat certain foods?
One strategy that I use in my classroom that I have found to be effective is to break up the steps of eating into smaller pieces. Then after each piece is accomplished the students is praised, and it makes is so there are little wins along the journey.
Six-Step Strategy That Works in My Classroom
The first thing I would have a child do with the new food is to allow it on their plate. There is no pressure on the child to do anything. The idea is that you are introducing what it looks like and teaching them that it is food.
Once they tolerate the food item in their space my next move for the student is to “Kiss it.” Just like it sounds, the child would kiss the food. I’ve seen a few things happen with this method. The first is what I want – after they kiss it they try and wipe it off with their tongue. Win! I have also seen students immediately wipe it off with their hand. That is okay too.
When the child is willing to kiss the food, then the next step is to lick it. Again, if the child wipes the food away right afterward, that’s fine. Just keep having them do it over and over until you see that they do not wipe it away as much.
Next, we move to “bite it.” Again, this can go one of two ways. In a perfect world, they bite it and then swallow. However, that for some would be asking a lot with a completely new food or texture. So, you can allow them to spit it out on a plate or in a specific place (you don’t want them to develop a habit of spitting out food in random places).
Once you see that they start to accept the food, have them wait a predetermined number of seconds before you let them spit it out. Again, the hope is that they will chew and swallow it.
The last and final step of this method is to teach “the chew.” Some kiddos will naturally start to chew the food. Others not so much. Just like the process is with “bite it”allows the student to chew one time and then spit it out. Work up to the number of chews appropriate to break down the food type. Then, when you think they are ready, have them swallow it. Don’t be surprised if your child skips around some of the later steps. Hopefully, once they understand the process as you introduce new foods, you will move quicker through the steps.
Another alternative is locating a Feeding Clinic in your area read here about how a feeding clinic may be able to help.