Is getting your child to eat a new food a stressful experience? Do you find yourself cooking 4 different meals for the family dinner? Have you given up on trying to get your child to eat fruits and vegetables? These are common experiences for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).. Picky Eating, or Problem Eating is much more common in children with ASD. We spoke to Judy, Feeding Therapist at Opya, to help us, as parents, understand why a child self-limits their diet and what we can do to help them and ourselves.
“Why is making my kids eat different foods such a chore?”
Eating is a multi-sensory experience. Each mouthful brings the possibility of a variety of flavors, textures and temperatures. They include:
A child/adult on the spectrum may have an aversion to one or many attributes listed above, depending on their sensory profile.
“What do kids with ASD experience?”
Food choices are based on individual children’s sensory experiences. Many children who are picky or problem eaters may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). A child maybe hypersensitive, hyposensitivity, or a mixture of both.
A child with hypersensitivity, has heightened sensitivity to flavors, textures, temperatures, and smells, or hyposensitivity, may seek out strong flavors and hard textures to make up for experiences they are missing.
The smell and/or texture of a food may elicit the same noxious sensory response as being stuck in a room with skunk stench. “GET OUT OF HERE!” is the message the body will send.
It can be difficult for parents to understand their child’s preferences when they themselves do not share the same sensory experience. The symptoms in some children with ASD can be further exacerbated by their strong preference for routine.. This preference for sameness can show up at meal time as well. For example, wanting chicken nuggets only from McDonald’s on a specific plate.
“What is considered typical picky eating and when is a child a problem eater?
While it is common for toddlers and kids of all ages to be picky or fussy about foods …
… a typical picky eater tends to exhibit different behaviors and often outgrow these tendencies. This is often not the case in kids who are “problem eaters.”
A typical child may exhibit some or all of the symptoms below:
A child with problem eating may exhibit some or most of the behaviors below:
“My child is already has a busy schedule, I don’t see this as a priority!”
Parents may get dissuaded from thinking that feeding is an issue because the pediatrician’s growth chart shows the kid(s) growing normally. However the reality is that kids can grow quite well on diets that are not nutritionally balanced, eg. a carb-only diet. Additionally, communication difficulties, meltdowns and lack of time makes any eating issues seem trivial and hard to prioritize.
Having a family add one more commitment of weekly Feeding Therapy can feel daunting. Research has shown that for the vast majority of children problem eating presents itself when they are toddlers and they do not “outgrow it”. Early intervention for feeding is the key to having the best outcome, just as in the case of other therapy types (speech, behavior, & OT).
Additionally, research has proven that a nutritionally balanced diet is essential to thrive and has several benefits.
Kids with ASD are 2x likely to be overweight, 5x likely to be obese, and 2x likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
“What can I do to get a head-start?”
Parents and professionals working with children are responsible for preparing and providing a well balanced meal at an appropriate schedule and setting. The child is solely responsible for whether they eat and how much they eat.
Before each meal
During each meal
PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE any participation in food-related experiences.
“How can I take action?”
As a parent you can intervene by:
Think long term, small steps today can make a huge difference! See a doctor or a professional before starting any new meal plan.
If you’re in the area, please contact Opya for any questions regarding our feeding services.
Judy is a licensed Speech Language Pathologist and the Director of Speech & Occupational Therapy at Opya. Judy brings 25+ years of experience in her field. Her level of expertise extends from pediatrics to neurologically impaired adults. She also served as a therapist and manager in the Department of Rehabilitation at Stanford Hospital for many years. Judy was the founding president of the Special Education PTA of Redwood Citv (SEPTAR). Her experience as the parent of an adult child with ASD provides her with a unique and beneficial perspective. She holds her Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) and is licensed by the state of California.
Kids and adults diagnosed with ASD possess numerous strengths, however, they lack an intuitive social ability. This inhibits them from managing everyday activities as well as skills that would support them for the rest of their lives. Additionally, communication and interaction deficits can exacerbate the issue.
According to a blog on The Mighty, in a recent study, researchers used a fMRI machine to study the regions of the brain that are representative of a person’s social abilities. It was found that people with ASD who attended a five-week social skills camp (one hour, twice a week) showed significant improvement. During this process the individuals learned empathy, initiating play, and emotional recognition, which helped reduce anxiety and form friendships.
Not surprisingly many parents want this for their young ones so they can thrive in social situations. Opya listened recognized this gap and enhanced our service offerings by running our first Social Skills Group this summer; inspired by the renowned Michelle Garcia’s, Social Thinking™. It took a lot of passion and expertise to come together as a team and design and execute an evidence-based program to help our clients expand their social skills by providing them with a safe environment to practice, learn, and be understood. The goals of the program were to facilitate and improve:
Over the course of 8-weeks, the Opya leadership team and therapists, designed, supervised and facilitated the Social Skills Group at our San Mateo location. Opya’s Social Skills Groups consists of kids and young adults with and without an ASD diagnosis between the ages of 5-17. The curricula groups are designed, supervised, and led by BCBAs, supported by Masters level supervisors, occupational & speech therapists. Additionally, a one-to-one behavior therapist is provided for most clients as well. Our team actively worked on helping our clients improve their social skills by:
In doing so the participants had a chance to practice their newly acquired social skills, and hone them in a friendly, engaging, and team-based environment.
The results were outstanding! Not only did they see a direct implementation of the skills in the groups, but parents also reported that their children were able to apply what they learned in social and family gatherings. While the feedback Opya received from parents was extremely positive, the most exciting part of the program was when group members starting to form friendships and set up playdates outside the program. This was a complete 180 from the first day where the kids were reluctant to engage and interact with one another.
The results spoke for themselves. The success was overwhelming. The program truly bridged the gap between the treatment and the ability to generalize what they learned in other social and school settings.
The success of this program inspired us to make the Social Skills Group a regular part of our curriculum. It’s a four-month-long program, once a week, that is offered at our San Mateo & Santa Clara locations starting in September 2018. Please come join us! If you are interested, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Jonathan Wright, Founder & CEO, Opya
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— Jonathan Wright, Founder & CEO, Opya
Today, our transformation has begun with our name. We’ve evolved from Optimus Outcome to an uplifting, succinct version of ourselves called “Opya”.
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