It is not uncommon to hear parents of young children remark that their child is a picky eater. Many online sources outline the most practical and typical ways to make meal time more productive, but as you have probably come to realize by now, raising a child with autism requires problem-solving that can be seemingly impractical and atypical.

It is important to understand that although picky eating is not uncommon in all children, what usually motivates a typically-developing child’s picky eating habits is probably not the same as what motivates an autistic child’s picky eating habits. This doesn’t mean that meal time with your autistic child can not get easier, it just means that you are going to have to think outside the box.

Thinking outside the box involves looking for solutions that you might never have thought would help. The tips provided below will probably seem counter-intuitive to the rules that usually go along with meal time, but let’s try our best to get rid of the preconceived notions, because just like your child’s needs are unique, your creative solutions are going to have to be unique too.

Here are some tips to keep in mind whenever meal time challenges come along:

It’s not about how it tastes

While you might expect your child to refuse a food because it tastes bad, when a child with autism stubbornly refuses to eat a certain food it is probably not because they do not like the taste of it. Rather, due to the sensory sensitivities that are typically part of an autism diagnosis, the “feel” of the particular food can often be the biggest deciding factor for your child.

For example, if you notice that your child typically refuses apple sauce, it may not be because he/she doesn’t like the taste of apples. It could be that they do not like the mushy texture of apple sauce. So, instead of substituting apple sauce with pudding, try substituting apple sauce with sliced apples as a way make meal time more productive.

Play with your food!

Meal time in any household might typically include “stop playing with your food!” being yelled from across the room, but it turns out that for autistic children, playing with their food may be exactly what they need.

Due to their textural sensitivities and the difficulty that they have breaking normal routine, being introduced to a new food will probably be difficult for your child. Try allowing your child to get used to the texture and look of new food through holding, touching, smelling, and even kissing it. This will help by allowing them to practice feeling it on their lips and in their hands for at least the first few days. Introducing new foods will continue to be a process, but by saying “play with your food!,” you can help make it a successful one.

Eat alone

Parents usually assume that their child has FOMO (fear of missing out) from anything and everything. When it comes time for meals, you might think that separating your child from the social scene or the television will only make the fight worse, but this is likely to to be untrue for your child with autism.

Autistic children can be easily overwhelmed by the noises around them, and the presence of such racket makes it less likely that they will successful eat a nutritious meal. If you are having trouble convincing your child to eat, try taking them to a quiet room with minimal company and noise.

Meal time isn’t easy for any parent and can be especially difficult for parents of children with autism, but meal time should never be a lost cause. By keeping these tips in mind, meal time can transform from an inevitable and repetitive battle to an enjoyable opportunity to get to know your child and their needs on a deeper level.