To eat or not to eat…

Posted on: February 14, 2012

Restriction and regression related to food is very common in those with Autism.

Heres my experience with A.

A, was given formula milk from the moment he was born, never really had any problems & the late night/early morning feeds where made easier as he enjoyed the milk at room temperature.

He was very content and this meant we only started to give him solids when he was 6 months old. It was a slow process finding foods A liked, or more so foods he would eat and not sick back up as soon as he swallowed – we found one, which was Mash, he ate it nearly every day – it differs as to whether he will even touch it now.

Hes been through lots of different phase, of loving certain foods, to clamping his mouth shut when we’ve offered them to him.

Ive spent hours and hours cooking loads of different foods just to have them thrown on the floor or left completely untouched – i used to get so upset thinking he was going hungry or just through sheer frustration that he wouldnt try anything new. He would gag on foods i tried him with once i managed to get it into his mouth.

He can now feed himself and prefers finger foods. I still every now and again if hes in a good mood try him with something new – needless to say he never entertains it! At home he struggles to use a spoon, preferring to scoop his food onto his tray with the spoon then picking it up with his fingers, whereas at nursery he is supposedly very good with a spoon. This is another topic we could go into, Generalising skills. Something a child does at home and be very good at may be something they wont even attempt elsewhere.

There have been many foods ive been told hes tried at nursery, from being told this ive gone straight to the supermarket and bought the same food and he hasnt touched it, for A, if it doesnt look the same he wont eat it, it has to be on the same plate, same table, in same place or for A, it isnt the same.

He enjoys his food cold, and will gag on warmer foods, or even foods that are most familiar with him. Ive come to realise its quite sensory related,

Chemical receptors in the tongue tell us about different tastes – sweet, sour, spicy and so on. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.


  • Likes very spicy/hot foods.
  • Eat everything – such as mud, grass, Play-dough. This is known as Pica.


  • Finds some flavours and foods too strong and overpowering because of very sensitive taste buds. – So have a very restricted diet.
  • Certain textures cause discomfort; some children will only eat smooth foods like mashed potatoes or ice-cream.

A, comes under both of these: he will eat everything, paper, couch stuffing, plastic, blu-tack, mud, sand, toys! & He has a very restricted diet which contains about 5 foods.

Diets and ASD children are very frustrating and hard work. I just let A eat what i know he will eat, even if it is near enough the same meal everyday – suppose i just dont want him to go hungry.

I would love you all reading this to share your experiences so people can see the differences/similarites in Autism & diets.

L x


12 Responses to "To eat or not to eat…"

I have found that the amount of effort I put into preparing & cooking a meal relates directly to how likely he is to eat it. I can spend hours cooking & my son wont even try the food but if I have just popped something in the oven he loves it!

I know how frustrating it is. K is hypo sensitive. Unfortunately he has PICA but thankfully he only got really sick once. That was the time he ate the glove, yes a whole glove, and it got stuck. Everything else seems to pass ok. Keep at it though, it will hopefully get better. It seemed forever that K only ate certain foods!

My son refused to eat a single thing I cooked and would only eat from a few jars when he was small. He had to have a different toy to hold for each spoonful!! He is now 7 and only has a certain number of foods he will eat. Introducing something new takes months and the only veg he eats are carrots, luckily he loves banana and grapes, so he has that with every meal. He also has pica and chomps on most things -at school he has a special chew toy ( like our dog!!), which stops him eating everything else! We are making progress though and he now has at least 5 different meals he will eat!
Great blog and to find out others experiences! Thanks


This is very interesting indeed – it never ceases to amaze me that there is such a diverse set of obstacles/problems placed on the way of parents of children with Autism and the lengths you go to for overcoming them,
then sharing with others. Thank you yet again for including me in the loop –

Don’t have personal experience of this but know someone who has a child.who has pica and eats paper wood various things mum says she eats the canisters and plaster on the walls.and she is constantly repairing her house and keep her safe.

That’s a very interesting post.
G was breastfed, full time for 3 months (it was only time he seemed fairly content as he was not a happy baby) and then I tried introducing mashed food gradually from then with varied results and a lot of it came back!!. G was born with serious kidney problems and his consultant was very positive about the breastfeeding but G’s nurses didn’t like it because they couldn’t put quantity of food taken on his feeding chart!(At this point I would add that I was the Chair of the local National Childbirth Trust which helped me with being firm when dealing with these nurses). G spent a lot of his first 4 years in hospital and I used to ‘live in’ with him. Keeping up his fluid levels has always been a priority and this could make me anxious.
G has always preferred veg and fruit with small amounts of chicken and fish as in fish cakes and occasionally mince in Spag Bol or Chilli. Finger food was popular and soups. A supply of bread-sticks also worked well as some thing to have in my bag when we went out also small cartons of fruit juice.
Today it’s really spicy food or food with a strong flavour that he likes. Letting G ‘help’ in the kitchen from a young age has paid off, but lot’s of food has been scraped of the walls and floor in the process. His sister W is the one who had a texture thing about her food and was the more challenging of the 2. I found that peer pressure got them both to try new things that they wouldn’t entertain at home. Interestingly all 3 of us have IBS related to being lactose intolerant.
My advice – don’t panic (easy to say, not to do) if their restricted diet contains healthy food that’s ok, introduce new stuff in a relaxed way i.e small taster amounts and don’t react if they aren’t interested. If all else fails I used to make a big pot of lentil and veg soup and blend it till it was very smooth. They both liked that and even now in their 20’s it still goes down well.

Lewis’ eating is a major problem. He is 10 now and becoming somewhat overweight, because he will often only eat ‘junk’ food. I am bad at being strict, because he suffers so much, and genuinely enjoys eating. He really really struggles with trying anything new, and we are effectively stuck, by our own lenience, because he won’t now expand on the staple junk foods.

He does, however, love fruit. grapes, pears, apples, oranges, strawberries – he’ll eat and eat and eat them, which we obviously encourage. He also loves spaghetti bolognaise and ‘spicy’ pasta sauce (but ONLY with shells, not twists or macaroni for example), so I try to give him them as much as possible, with vegetables chopped small enough to be unnoticeable. He will not knowingly eat a vegetable though.

I say spicy. He doesn’t like spicy, he just likes to think he likes spicy because that is cool! One drop of tobasco sauce in a whole pot of pasta makes it ‘spicy’ and therefore ‘grown up’. Works a treat.

Every autistic kid is different with food I think. I have a friend who’s ASD kid will only eat vegetables. She can’t get protein into him at all!

I have found that trying to force change is counter productive, and subtle changes are best. Give him something he likes with an extra ingredient ‘hidden’ in it, and tell him afterwards that he ate it. The realisation that he ate it without it being horrible is very effective.

Calling things different names often helps too. He won’t eat chicken. He therefore won’t eat any chicken product, like chicken fingers or nuggets. Just call them ‘nuggets’ or ‘fingers’ and he is fine with them. He knows they are chicken, but if you don’t say it out loud, it’s not a problem for him. I don’t understand this, but it works for many foods.

School dinners are a non-starter though. He takes a packed lunch or comes home. Sandwich with cheese AND jam on. same every day.

My thoughts on food are that there are so many more important things in life than what is for dinner. This is 10x more apparent if you have ASD to worry about. Provided he gets an acceptable level of nutrician, then what does it matter if he has the same to eat every day? What species on the planet apart from humans eat different meals every day? What other species on the planet have such unhealthy diets as humans?

Food.. hmm… Emotive subject.
Our two were severely neglected before being taken into care. They were then fostered by lovely people who didn’t like mess…. So they never ate at their family table. They had a feeding age of 18mths when we got them age 5.
The first thing we did was buy clip on plate edges. Meant for stroke patients they signalled nicely to the ‘tut-turrets’ that this child is special so they can tut-off! They keep food on virtually any plate, wash, and fit in a big handbag so restaurants were possible.
Ours would eat any food they knew. So new foods needed warning… And still do now (14) Half sandwich they know, half one new, with a warning to look out for it, was fine for school lunch.
My nursery nursing told me that children will generally eat a balanced diet over a year… That takes the pressure off a bit, and gives permission for a week of only peas, followed by a fortnight of only garribaldi biscuits!
Personally I think finger feeding with a spoon nearby is fine… Our children need to feel the food and experience it and I think that’s ok.

Got to go… Grandad can’t find the teabags! …. Might not be back tonight…

My son is both hypo and hyper sensitive and our story reads so closely to yours, in fact almost identically.
We have experienced amazing progress with one tactic I thought I would share with you all. Keep in mind I had grown to accept that at 5 yrs old my son would probably never comfortably accept or willingly try fruit or vegetables, soup, pasta, stews, pizza, or anything closely resembling those common, everyday meals.
I chose one fruit to begin with, and to make it easier I used a texture he could handle – puréed or smooth – and for convenience and to lessen my frustration at preparing something that be would be sure to turn away, we began with simple SPC puréed apples. Every day at the beginning of every meal I would have one spoonful of apples ready and before every bite of his chosen preferred food I would encourage him to “have a sniff” in a happy, fun, and encouraging tone of voice, and make a big deal of how great it smelled, and how great it was that he was even giving that a go. Over the course of a week we were able to build from sniffing to letting the purée touch his tongue (which was accompanied by plenty of spluttering/gagging to begin with of course!) to licking a little off the spoon to whole tubs!! His early intervention program and primary program did the same at every meal time so as to encourage generalizing of the skill. We have had to repeat this process obsessively with every new food we wanted him to try, and there are still periods where he will completely go off things he has called his favourite for weeks, but now we have an arsenal of things to replace it with.
We had to be militant with the routine and resilient with the rate of progress but the results have been beyond anything I believed were possible. My son’s menu consists now of all those things I mentioned above and every month we add something new.

I hope this can be of help to someone, I know this is one of those struggles that affect us as parent/carers every second of our waking and sleeping lives.
And the best thing to remember us if you’re not feeling up to making it fun, just give yourself a day off, don’t judge yourself for it, it’s one of the toughest jobs in the world. Wait until you’re feeling positive and it will be easier on both of you!

Good Luck Everyone!
You are all my heroes!!
And Bon Apetite!!!

Great stuff! People often think this is just “picky eating,” and it’s so much more complicated than that. Good explanation. We can relate to the hyper-sensitive and the pica!

M was bottle fed, and fed well, he also ate well, everything we gave him until he was 2, then it all changed. We were on holiday, at a familiar place where he’d been all his life (and still does) he started to refuse the foods he used to eat, we put it down to being away, but it just stayed that way. Now I know it was ASD emerging. I used to get very stressed about his diet, but have learned over the years as long as he is eating then thats OK, I don’t try and fix what I can’t change. To M what is the point of eating other foods when he likes the food he does eat, always get a flat refusal. Occasionally Ive managed to get him to put the tip of his tounge on a food, and he physically gags, so I don’t put him through it any more.

M’s daily diet, 365 days a year:

Breakfast: Toast and butter
Lunch: At school: bread & butter sandwich, cheerios, Walkers ready salted crisps. At home: fries 2 go and bread and butter
Dinner: Either Birdseye chicken burgers or Birdseye chicken nuggets and McCains French fries.
Drinks: Water
Snacks: Crisps, Jacobs cream crackers, digestives.

Occasionally will eat sausage or bacon. He’s only just started to use a knife and fork, he used to finger feed, but with the help of the OT and a special cutlery set, he’s doing well.

He has absolutely no vegetables or fruit in his diet at all, and I have no way of getting them into him. The paied says his weight is OK and not to worry, so quite simply, I don’t. I really wish he would have a better diet though.

The thing I always think is everything he eats is brown/orange and textured, he’s hypo sensitive in the mouth too.

When he was alot younger we had to use the same plate, cup etc, but that has eased off alot now. Holidays and eating out can be a pain as we have to make sure we can always get chips and nuggets or bread, no nice italian restaurants for us lol. But hey, at least we can eat out (armed with DS and headphones).

It is so interesting to read everyones posts to find out the similar difficulties our children have, and how we all manage it. Keep up posting its fab.


Feeding my five years Autistic kid is not funny,if you give him what he does not like he hit is head and even want to bit you.

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