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A Workshop on Autism with Autism International Director Sean Fitzgerald
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Help your child with autism eat healthier foods

Waiter! I’ll have the special please!

Encouraging eating
Would you like to help your child eat healthier foods? Would you like to encourage a wider variety of foods? Try the following tips to help your child start munch, munch, munching!

1) Make a menu
lunch-menuMake a menu of the new healthy food you want your child to eat. It’s a good reminder for you and for your child. Have fun with this. Use crayon or marker. You can even illustrate it if you like. Post the menu in the kitchen where you and your child can see it. Sprinkle in occasional explanations of how particular foods are helpful. You can do this even during non eating times. Tie your child’s motivations into your explanations. For example, my child likes running and chase games and he likes Peppa Pig. If I was explaining why it’s great to eat blueberries I might say how they help him run fast. If I was explaining why carrots are great I might say how Peppa Pig likes to pick them out of her garden and munch on them. (Explanations work even for non-verbal children – just because a child has difficulty with expression doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand).

2) Create a new belief
If your child is self limiting and extremely selective with food it is easy to stop offering healthy foods or a wider variety of foods because you might think, “Oh, he won’t eat it.” You’ve got to create a new belief for yourself which will help you to begin a new chapter with food and eating, The new belief could be “He will eat it!” Or, “She will eat it eventually and it is worth the effort.” If you can’t get yourself to believe that your child will eat it yet then you could start out with believing, “He might eat it!”

3) Keep the good stuff on offer
Have some small bowls of the food you’d like your child to eat out and available. You might put the bowls out on the table or down on the floor of your playroom. This way your child has many more opportunities to see and try the food.

4) Eat it yourself
Have you ever seen a commercial of someone eating a delicious bowl of spaghetti and had a craving for pasta? Have you ever watched a beer commercial during a football game and felt a little thirsty? Advertising works because it exposes you to an idea and tries to do so in a positive manner. You can do the same thing with your child. Every time you enjoy yourself having some of your child’s snack you are a personalized advertisement. It doesn’t mean your child is going to eat it right away but over time it can make the food more and more attractive. Play up your enjoyment of the food. Let your child see what they are missing.

5) Buzz Lightyear loves sugar snap peas!
Your child’s toys can also model enjoying healthier food. In fact, good food can help Buzz fly higher, the cars roll faster, and the teddy bears hug and squeeze firmer.

6) Incorporate food into play
play-peasDon’t throw the food at one another! But you could pause in the middle of a rough and tumble game to have some cucumber (because you’ve run out of strength!) You could pause in the middle of playing with trains to give the train some apple before it goes to pick up some more passengers. Any time your child is motivated within an interaction – whether that is for you to read a book, sing a song or play a chase game, there is an opportunity for you to pause within the fun game for a snack break. This way your child starts to associate healthy new food with positive experiences. As well as eating the food yourself within interactions, you could encourage your child to try some. If he is not willing to try the food yet you might ask him to feed you instead.

7) Feed me already!
Some children respond well to the direct approach – “Here try some of these delicious (gluten free) chicken nuggets!” If your child doesn’t respond well to the direct enthusiastic approach then try offering food more casually and indirectly. You might say in a low key way, “These chicken nuggets are delicious. I’ll just leave them down here and if you like you can try some before I finish them all.”

8) Give your child control
Even if your child is not ready to move toward eating the new food, you don’t want him moving away. If you force the food upon your child, the next time you are offering food your child will be running in the other direction to get away from you! You can avoid this by giving your child control and respecting his “no”. No does not mean no forever. It only means no for this moment. There will be another opportunity to offer the food in the next moment or a half hour later or a few hours later.

9) Celebrate!
Cheer your child on for any steps that she takes toward eating a new food. This could include looking at the food, touching it, sniffing it and of course tasting it. Your celebrations will encourage your child to go further with the new food.

10) Be persistent
Maybe your child has to say no one hundred times to the new food before he is willing to say yes. Don’t be pushy and overdo it. But be persistent and committed to having the new foods available and offering them in an encouraging manner.

11) Use the distraction technique
With some children if you read them a book or turn on the television – they are so distracted that they almost don’t seem to notice that you are feeding them. If you find this is helpful with your child, use the distraction technique to help them eat. However, even if this is effective with your child you want to, at other times, be sure to offer your child healthy good food when he or she is paying attention to you. You want your child to eventually actively participate in eating good food.banned-chips

12) Chips don’t exist anymore!
The chips factory has gone out of business! If your child loves chips and doesn’t eat many other foods, sometimes removing the old standby food can create the space (literally) for your child to be willing to try something new. If you think a particular food is not so healthy or helpful for your child then don’t be afraid to no longer have that old standby available. It works best if you don’t even have the food you’d prefer your child not to eat in the house. If necessary, you can always reintroduce the old standby food at a later time.

Have fun with your child’s new menu! Giving your child the opportunity to eat healthier foods is a terrific thing to do.

As always best wishes.

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Connect, Communicate, Grow

Essential tools to help you boost your child's interaction, affection and communication.

A Workshop on Autism

with Sean Fitzgerald
Autism International Director

16, 17, 18 September, 2016

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Click here for more details.

24, 25 September, 2016

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Click here for more details.

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