The role of diet and nutrition as it relates to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been a subject of interest over the last couple of decades.
In this blog, we will discuss:
- Is diet important for autistic children?
- What is the role of diet in autism?
- What are autism food preferences?
- How do you support the dietary preferences of autistic Individuals?
Is Diet Important for Autistic Children?
Diet considerations are crucial for autistic children as it can support physical, social, mental, and behavioral health. A consultation with your pediatrician, dietitian, and feeding therapist can help you create a custom diet and support plan that works for your family.
Autistic individuals also are more likely to develop food selectivity – where one will avoid eating foods or eat in low quantities. This can lead to malnourishment, nutrient deficiencies in iron, zinc, calcium, fiber, as well as vitamins A, B (6 & 12), C, D, E, and K. Monitoring their diet is important, as this makes sure that your child eats balanced, nutrient-dense meals!
What is the Role of Diet in Autism?
While not necessarily considered a treatment, a healthy diet has been shown to support brain development and improve some social behaviors that are more likely to arise out of high-sugar diets, for instance. This can also improve gut health, balance hormones, and restore proper digestion, setting your child up for success by removing or avoiding challenges that may come from imbalances in diet.
What are Autism Food Preferences?
Because every autistic person is different, food preferences and sensitivities will be different with every autistic child. Differences in the sensory system contribute to various preferences, dislikes, and needs. Children may have intense desire or avoidance of specific tastes, textures, temperatures, brands, colors, and shapes. Seemingly small variations in any of these aspects can be highly aversive and uncomfortable for autistic individuals. Pay close attention to your child’s specific preferences and triggers, as what works for others might not work for them!
How to Support the Dietary Preferences of Autistic Individuals
While you may not be able to understand their food aversions or preferences, it’s important to respect your child’s autonomy. Forcing them to eat food that clashes with their sensory boundaries may create discomfort, anxiety, behavioral issues, and long term negative associations with food.
Supporting their dietary preferences also means gently encouraging them to interact with new things through “try-it” strategies and slow desensitization with touch and smell first. Additionally, offering a variety of foods repeatedly with no requirement to eat provides repeated positive exposure. This can help expand their palette and also get proper nutrients through whole foods. Introducing new snacks or meals that are within the realm of their comfort texture can make for an easier transition.