Starting school can be a big step for children on the spectrum. They need to adjust to a new environment away from home, they need to learn new routines, meet new people and have a new building to navigate. And one of the main adjusting factors is food. Every parent with a kid on the spectrum knows that food can be a very difficult topic to deal with and one of the main aspects of school life is adjusting to food.
A large number of kids on the spectrum only eat a limited range of foods and add to this already tough situation- the school cafeteria, and then we face every parent with a kid with autism’s nightmare. Let’s see why eating in school can be so difficult on the autism spectrum.
Autistic children are very sensitive to a lot of things and the processing of sensory data is one of the hallmarks of ASD. Thus the school environment may make your child feel extremely sensitive. It might be the way the food feels in his mouth, or just the environment may be very noisy or visually busy for him/her, all of which may affect his or her eating pattern or may cause a sensory overload.
Many children with Autism have a routine for themselves and they stick to it rigidly. And this is especially true when it comes to their eating habits or food. In certain schools, the staff may not always be willing to cater to an autistic kid’s routine or behavior the same way their parents might, thus causing plenty of problems for autistic children in school.
Here are five ways in which you can ensure your kid’s needs are met:
Explore whether the eating environment can be optimized for your child:
If your child is having a tough time with his/her eating sessions and there is nothing you can do to help your child, then it is time to talk to his/her teacher and ask them for advice. Maybe your child is sensitive to smells or noise or maybe it is the social aspects of mealtimes which are difficult. It is always better to get to the grassroots of the problem to understand how you can help your child.
Make sure your child is never pressured to eat
There are many ways to convince a child to eat, although this may be normal for a kid not on the spectrum, but for a kid who is on the spectrum, this may seem like pressure. Thus it is always better to be clear with your child’s teacher and explain to them that they should not force your child to eat and that your child’s eating decision should be respected.
Avoid discussing your child’s eating in his/her presence
‘What did my child eat today’ might be the top question that you may ask your child’s teacher or daycare staff. Daycare staff or teachers may also be keen to let you know how meal and snack times have gone. If your child is within earshot and can understand your conversation, try to avoid having these discussions about his/her eating.
When children are aware that what they eat is a major priority for you, this can add to the anxiety and pressure they feel at mealtimes.
Make sure safe foods are always available
If your child only eats a limited range of foods, it is important that a couple of his/her safe foods are always included on the menu at every meal and snack. If this isn’t possible, it may be preferable to send him/her food from home, so that they don’t start feeling overwhelmed at school. When children learn to trust that there will always be something available for them to eat, they feel less anxious before and during meals.
Plan for school meals
If your child is entering a new grade or just starting at school or daycare, a bit of preparation from your end will go a long way in helping your child. You can arrange for a visit to the eating area before your child starts school so that he/she knows what to expect. Maybe you could take some photographs of the dining area to show to your kid at home to help him understand his new surroundings.
You can also help your child prepare for shared meals by using social stories. The more you can do to help your child understand how to navigate mealtimes, the easier it will be for him/her.
If you have any more tips or advice on how to help parents deal with this transition do let us know in the comments section below.
Also, visit our site https://differentnotless.us/ to check out various products that help children/adults with autism.
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