Health experts and families share their advice on feeding children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Posted on Tue, 21/05/2019

Mealtimes can be very stressful for young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.

Recognising a need for further support, health professionals came together with families in Gateshead to develop an advice booklet for those struggling with this complex issue that can create a lot of anxiety for all involved.

Dr Anne Dale, a consultant paediatrician at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, organised a special event at Gateshead Library to bring experts and parents together to share their experience and offer tips and advice.

Parents were able to hear from paediatricians, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, dieticians and specialist educational practitioners. They could ask questions and talk openly about what strategies have worked and not worked for them.

The event was so successful, its content has been turned into a booklet to be shared with other families and more future events are planned.

The leaflet was then launched at Gateshead Library, where parents had the chance to try out fun ways of reducing anxiety around food.

Dr Dale said: “It is well known that children with ASD are significantly more likely to have feeding difficulties.  This is due to their need to have things the same (rigidities), inflexible thought and sensory processing difficulties.

“It can be so hard for parents of children with autism to know what the right thing to do is when it comes to meal times.

“Food can be a huge issue for a child with autism and this can be expressed in a wide range of ways. Children may only like very plain food, or food of certain colours or textures.

“They might only like to eat their own food and get very distressed if someone else touches their food.  Any slight change to routine can be very upsetting for them.

“All this can be very challenging for parents who often blame themselves and are at the same time worried their children are not getting the right nutrients they need. 

“I was so pleased with the positive feedback from the event and I hope this booklet will be a useful resource for parents.

“It is not a definitive answer, but it will give some tips/tools and advice, reassurance and books that may help.

“We also hope to run more similar events in the future.”

“For years, I blamed myself,” explains mum-of-two Michaela Dredge, talking about her daily battle to ensure her seven-year-old son, Harry, eats a healthy, balanced diet.

“From the moment we started to wean him onto solid food, every mealtime was a challenge.

“Very early on, he would fixate on one thing that he would like and refuse to eat anything else. For example, he would only eat one particular baby food. It was a very smooth bolognaise and he ate so much of it that he actually started to turn orange.

“We took him to the doctor and he was tested to see if there was an underlying cause – but they found it was the food that was causing it.  

“He also didn’t like any finger foods that would get his hands messy and developed a habit of overfilling his mouth with food.

“I felt like it was my fault and something that I had done to make him act this way. It caused so much heartache and arguments as my husband and I tried to work out what to do.

“The sessions and the leaflet are really useful.

“As well as hearing from all the professionals, it was reassuring to hear from other parents about their experiences and realise that Harry is not the only child who has these feeding issues.

“I think there is still a stigma around ASD, where people think your child is just ‘fussy’ or ‘a bit particular’. You also get that niggling feeling that it is your fault and down to your parenting, especially when you are a first time parent. 

“Hopefully, this booklet will help to raise awareness not only amongst parents, but also others in the wider community about the condition and how to deal with it.”

You can download the leaflet Here




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