When someone says your child with autism will eat when they're hungry

August 25, 2016

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro, an adult who’s on the autism spectrum. This blog originally appeared here

Oh vey, if it only were that easy.

Has anyone made a comment when you were trying to feed your child and said, “Oh, don’t worry so much. They'll eat when they're hungry?”

I can relate to this all too well.

Growing up, I was obsessed with bologna sandwiches. Nothing else would compare to the positive feeling I’d get whenever I’d be presented with another bologna sandwich. It wouldn’t matter if it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. That easily became one of my norms around the time I was diagnosed with autism at 4. This is a common characteristic for many on the spectrum.

It was challenging for me, as it is for many children, to understand I wanted food when I felt hungry. Other children sometimes will want to eat but don’t know when they will be full. These challenges can make for a difficult time trying to get several meals in during one day. For me, trying something other than that precious bologna sandwich would make me lose my appetite completely.

And then there are the sensory issues! People have to remember that children with autism often have sensory issues, and eating involves all five senses (touch, sight, taste, smell and sound). We truly went through the gauntlet early on for a solution when there wasn’t a true blueprint in place for feeding me. My parents tried transitioning me to other foods by including smaller amounts of foods I like, such as bologna, when they did. While this didn’t always work, more options presented to me would help me find more foods I enjoyed later down the line. They also helped me set up times during the day to have each meal to help me with structure.

Although I can truly say my experience may vary compared to the next person with autism you meet, researchers have estimated that over half of all children with an autism spectrum disorder have some sort of challenge with food.

My advice for those parents out there today who have a challenge like this with a loved one is to read and download resources to help guide you through it. I recommend a tool kit from Autism Speaks called “Exploring Feeding Behavior in Autism: A Guide for Parents.” I’ve often used this tool kit when consulting with parents who have children with autism to understand the “nuts and bolts,” as they say, of feeding issues.

After that, like my parents did for me, find what your child loves to eat, try to set up a schedule each day to set that structure and understand that each one of these children will have different needs, so creating a new blueprint may be necessary.

Today, I love a variety of foods, and I hope one day your child can do the same.

Bon Appetit!

Have a story you want to share about living on the autism spectrum? Email us at InOurOwnWords@autismspeaks.org.