I went to a great local training where Dr. Ashley Brimager, a clinical psychologist shared some tips for creating success at dinner time. She referenced support strategies from Dr. Marsha Linehan who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Check out more about DBT here: DBT therapy Information .
Long Term Goal:
The goal is for children to learn to internalize healthy eating habits and develop a healthy relationship with food.
What does “drama” look like in your home at mealtime?
Some parents have shared: food refusals, crying, acting out, meltdowns, throwing food etc.
Be mindful of the “setting events” before, during and after dinner. Make sure your child is not too hungry or too full when you attempt dinner routine. Do the best you can and every meal is a chance to work on creating harmonious mealtimes where kids work towards the long-term goal.
When Dinner with your child with autism becomes filled with drama, here are five tips to help:
- Create a predictable mealtime routine: Read my blog post called Creating (Functional) Micro-Routines For Kids With Autism At Home
Why? Routines are so important for kids with autism. Kids with autism thrive on predictability, structure and routine. Following and completing a routine can feel naturally reinforcing and organizing. Routines bring order to your day…
2. Help prepare the food and/or set the table together: ownership in the meal preparation process sometimes helps a child become more interested in the foods that end up on their plate. If your child is able to participate in this process, try encouraging their involvement.
3. Avoid food brand preferences by putting food in Tupperware, mason jars and unlabeled containers: Some parents wish they had started this process earlier because some kids will only eat one brand of a certain food. This type of insistence for “sameness” is characteristic for children who experience autism. Take this struggle away completely by putting pretzels for example in an unlabeled bin or container.
4. Take power struggles away by not forcing food: The only thing children can control in their world is their food intake, eliminating (pee and poop) and sleep. When we tell children they must eat all of their food, it can create a huge power struggle. Power struggles can end up becoming mealtime drama very quickly!
5. Acknowledge and manage sensory issues: It is characteristic of children who have autism to have some sensory processing needs. At mealtime, this may present itself by the child having a challenging time staying seated. A weighted lap pad is one solution for being sensitive to sensory needs. A beaded car seat cover was one recent suggestion I heard which is enjoyable to sit on for some kids with autism. Find the sensory supports that work just right for your child.
Mealtime is a common challenge for parents who have children with autism. Try these tips and reach out for support from your child’s educational and medical team. You are not alone!