Helping Families with Feeding Issues

Below is a guest post by pediatric psychologist Jayne Bellando, Ph.D., Associate Professor Department of Pediatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  Along with her colleagues, Dr. Bellando co-authored the newly released AS-ATN/AIR-P tool kit Exploring Feeding Behavior in Autism: A Parent’s Guide.

As a psychologist at a developmental center, I see families every day who have children on the autism spectrum.  One of the most difficult challenges for families is something that most parents take for granted- how to get your child to eat!  I am sure that if you are reading this blog, you have some of your own stories.  Some statements I have heard include things like “My child only eats white foods” or “He only eats a certain brand of chicken nuggets on a certain plate and only at home”

Because this is such a common problem and a serious issue for families, a Feeding Tool kit about the challenges that are seen for children on the autism spectrum has been developed.  This tool kit is targeted for parents, but actually, can be helpful for physicians, therapists and teachers who may not have as much experience in the feeding issues that happen for children on the autism spectrum.  Our goal in creating this tool kit was to make a clear and helpful guide so you can start thinking through what might be contributing to your child’s feeing issues and to find ways to make it better.

WHY is feeding so hard?

We had several goals in mind when we created this tool kit.  One of the important goals was to help parents better understand WHY this may be such a challenge for your child.  For most of us, we don’t think about eating….we just eat!  In this tool kit we have tried to take the time to break down all of the variables that go into eating.  I bet you will be surprised when you stop and think how complex feeding really is.

WHAT is making this so hard for my child?

The next goal for this tool kit is to help you pinpoint what might be “fueling” some of the feeding difficulties for your own child.  Is there a medical component that contributes to feeding problems?  Are there some behaviors that also contribute to problems?  We hope that you will gain some insight on some things that might be making feeding difficult for your child.  When you have a better idea of what may be contributing to the problems, you are on your way to creating a plan to make things better.

WHAT can we do to make it better?

Most importantly, we have tried to give you some tips on what you can do now to help make feeding better for your child.  We have also added some frequently asked questions from parents who we work with.  My guess is that you probably have wondered some of the same things.  Changes in feeding habits are a slow task and require lots of patience.  It also requires celebrating the small gains and not giving up!  We hope that this tool kit can help you feel less frustrated when changes in your child’s eating don’t happen quickly.  Sometimes it is easier to “stay the course” when you know what the course looks like!

OK, this is helping, but not enough.  What do we do now?

Sometimes your best attempts may not be giving your child the help needed.  In this tool kit, we have also given you some ideas on which professionals you may want to include on your team to help with feeding.  We have suggestions about questions to ask so that you find the right people to help your child and some resources that can be helpful.

Autism Speaks’ goal is to always give information that is best practice and is sensitive to the needs of children on the autism spectrum and their wonderful families who care for them.  With this tool kit, we hope to empower families and the other people on your child’s treatment team to help with this important aspect of your child’s health and well-being.

Download ATN/AIR-P Exploring Feeding Behavior in Autism: A Parent's Guide here!