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Navigating the Holidays with Autism: Part I: Thanksgiving with Picky Eaters

nav holidays p 1Why are autistic children picky eaters?

Many autistic children are picky eaters. The reasons are multi-faceted but the first thing to consider is sensory issues. Children with autism may be overly sensitive to tastes, smells, and textures—all of which will affect what they will or will not eat. If smells bother the child, the tastes are too strong, or the texture doesn’t “feel right” in their mouths, they will not eat the food item. Another reason that autistics tend to be picky eaters is that they crave routine. If your child is used to eating a certain item every day, trying to change that routine for holidays can be a big mistake.

Eating with Family

Many families get together with extended family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Larger crowds around the dinner table can be especially troublesome for an autistic child. There are more voices to content with that can be overwhelming. Oftentimes there are foods placed in front of them that are not a part of the “regular menu” and adults are expecting them to eat it. So what can you do?

Bring Your Own Food

One solution to both the picking eating, and expectations at the dinner table this holiday season is to bring a special dinner for your child. If you are visiting relatives for dinner, bring something you know your child likes—even if it is cheerios and marshmallows for dinner. The adherence to routine (eating what they usually eat) will ease some of the other transitional problems (eating away from home) they may be experiencing. If your child is getting overwhelmed in a larger crowd, or if you are, try to find a separate spot to eat. Maybe eat in front of a TV with your child in another room, a small corner of the kitchen, or even a spare bedroom. Talk to family members about where a good place to go would be in order to get a few quiet minutes to get your child to eat.

Explaining Autism

Family gatherings can be especially difficult on both an autistic child and parent. Many times family members do not know much about autism, do not understand, or are simply uninterested. Maybe you have even shared yours or your child’s diagnosis with them. This holiday season may provide the perfect opportunity to spread a little bit of autism awareness. By bringing you own food, asking for a quiet spot, maybe carrying noise cancelling headphones or earplugs for your child, you can begin to explain his or her special sensory needs.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. This has been very helpful. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Ultimate Holiday Survival Guide for Special Needs Families (120+ Links!) -

  3. ok, so not only did i forget what i wanted to say when i read this a few days ago, but now i wrote something and i got an error trying to post.
    so too bad.

    i think i said something about theres people out there that think that anything except immediate and firm punishment is the same as permissive or ignoring or letting the kid control or something.

    i just know what my kid is capable of, and that he needs to understand why, and that id rather he understand why and choose to do the right thing than to try to force him and just encounter his brick wall of death. LOL

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