Today, I spoke with a family I have been working with for years – the parents of a child with ongoing food selectivity and ASD. For a very long time, this sweet 3 year old has limited his diet to just a few select foods and despite lots of play and efforts on the parts of Mom and Dad, his progress has been slow.
One of the main subjects of our talk today revolved around the issue of control. Recently, his parents observed that they often offered and encouraged him to try new foods – but that this method was a recipe for failure. However in this last week, Dad decided to “model” for his son, and ate a new coconut yogurt with gusto and left the container on the table. Sure enough, minutes later, their son came over on his own accord – after Dad had already walked away – and took a bite! All on his own. The same thing happened later in the week with a snack food that was left on the table.
For this child, the key seemed to be allowing him to choose when and if he would eat the new food and not offering it to him directly.
Indeed, for so many children – with and without special needs, there isn’t a lot that is in their control in their little world, and this can make for a lot of frustration and tantrums – not a great recipe for healthy eating. [Two areas that are in their control? Whether or not to open their mouth and eat, and whether or not to poop, and issues with constipation with young children are common as well]. So when we give back control and offer choices where and whenever we can, for some children, this can open a window to better engagement and willingness to try something new. If you are noticing strong resistance from your child, consider that he or she may need to take back the wheel just a bit to get things moving in the right direction. For older kids, involving them in planning weekly meals, choosing the new foods the family will try that week, and how they will be prepared can also be helpful.