Feeding children is a thankless task for most parents. During the toddler years many parents express frustration at their child’s restricted dietary choices and fussy tendencies. Food and feeding issues come with the territory where Autism is concerned. Many children on the spectrum have sensory aversions with food – so that the smell, texture, consistency or even the colour of the food causes them offence and stress. Many children on the spectrum suffer from Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) and a high proportion suffers from food sensitivities such as gluten, dairy, salicylate or amine sensitivities. Coupled with this, a high number of children on the spectrum also suffer from recurrent ear infections, often requiring grommets and adenoid removal procedures. As you can imagine, these things impact on eating, feeding. Children on the spectrum tend not to enjoy new experiences – food is no different. Feeding a child with ASD is an exhausting, lifelong issue.
J is a particularly fussy eater. He prefers that none of his food touches – he likes everything separated with no blending of textures or tastes. He is not a fan of meat and as a result his iron levels are often low. He has a very limited variety of foods and experiences a lot of anxiety in and around food. I have consulted dieticians and nutritionists; I’ve sought Paediatric help and have explored Natural Therapies in an attempt to help J with his issues with food. You know what? It all just leaves you feeling even more frustrated. If I did what other parents sometimes do and just insist that J eat what’s on his plate or eat nothing at all, he would much prefer to starve and would simply just sit it out. His aversion is that strong. When he tries something new – even just placing it into his mouth and spitting it out – up to the point when the food is in his mouth the stress upon him is enormous. Often he is crying (even when he really wants to try it!) and once the food is in his mouth he is gagging, sometimes vomiting. It’s distressing to him and to us!
Due to J’s fussy eating habits and also for a range of other health concerns, I’ve read a lot about the gut. We have all now learnt that the gut is like the second brain. We also know that individuals on the spectrum have entirely different ecosystems in the gut than the general population. They are vulnerable to antibiotics and are often sensitive to gluten and dairy, unable to properly digest the proteins in these products. I use supplements to manage the boys’ GORD, digestive/bowel issues and general health. I swear by probiotics (helps move food through the gut, helps IBS and other bowel concerns, helps skin conditions) and supplementing with magnesium (relaxes muscles, helps with headaches, helps digestion/bowels, can reduce anxiety), Omega 3’s (anxiety and inattention, concentration) and also giving the boys a quality multivitamin. The boys also bath in Epsom Salts (rich in magnesium, reduces stress, relaxes muscles, helps body to eliminate toxins, helps constipation), essential oils and coconut oil. The boys love their bath time and often have a bath before school or during the day if they are feeling anxious or uptight.
We still have a long way to go in terms of J’s eating and general health. I’ve learnt that I just have to relax a bit on this issue. All I can do is monitor J’s vitamin and mineral levels; monitor his general health; supplement where necessary; encourage him to eat as well as he can with the limited choices he has; offer him opportunities to extend his eating vocabulary; and praise him when he tries/accepts something new. We’ve always had greater success introducing new foods in a relaxed environment, outside of meal times and without any pressure being applied. Over time we have added a few foods into his eating repertoire which is such a triumphant feeling. It’s going to be a lifelong challenge but we can make it less stressful for everybody by just taking things one day at a time.