For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), sensory processing of food and its sensations can be difficult. As food and eating can be quite a sensory experience, aspects of sensory processing relating to food including taste, texture, temperature, smell, feel, and sound can present challenges, as the brain can become overloaded and result in negative reactions and experiences. Imagine your toddler will only eat pureed food, or your child will only eat crunchy and hard foods, or says that a crunchy cracker is slimy? These are all examples of how sensory sensitivities around food can impact children with ASD, and this can be more than just “picky eating”. Like hearing nails on a chalkboard, eating certain foods can be highly uncomfortable for some children.
MORE THAN THE FOOD
These sensitivities can also be about more than the food itself, rather the environment around the child when it comes time to eat. Factors including sitting posture, cutlery/utensils (material, colour), plates, dental hygiene, table height, and the overall surroundings (sound, light, background activity) can all impact on a child’s aversion to trying and eating new foods (Cermak, Curtin, & Bandini, 2013).
How can OT help with food-related sensory sensitivities?
Evidence suggests that engaging in sensory play with food can increase the likelihood of a child attempting and introducing new foods into their diet. Colourful spaghetti, chocolate mud, making fruit animals and edible finger paint can all reduce the pressure around mealtimes and increase the interaction and enjoyment factor. Additionally, making adjustments to the environment, such as dimming the lights and playing relaxing music can also reduce the child’s arousal levels and facilitate their tolerance to new food sensory experiences.
A collaborative approach between an Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologist, Dietitian and Psychological intervention can all assist with encouraging the child’s acceptance of various food textures.
Cermak, S.A., Curtin, C., Bandini, L.G. (2013). Food selectivity and sensory sensitivity in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100(2), 238 – 246. Doi 10.1016/j.jada.2009.10.03
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