Autism and Food

A subject I see talked about a lot on social media, is autism and food. It seems a lot of autistic people, especially children, have a very limited diet. There are different reasons why this might be the case, and it can go to extremes. A few years ago whilst being shown around a school, myself and Natalie bumped into parents of another autistic child. We had a quick conversation where they told us, their 7 year old son would only eat baby food.

Thankfully we’ve never had a problem with Jack, who I often refer to as the human dustbin. He doesn’t like spicy food, but other than that he eats pretty much anything. Lily on the other hand, is a different story. Before she had her own autism diagnosis, her “fussy” eating was a major concern for us. Now we know she is autistic as well, and that this seems to be fairly common. We have been slowly trying to expand her diet. So I’m going to look at what she eats, and how we are trying to expand her diet.

What Lily Eats

Like most kids she’s more than happy eating sweets, chocolate, cake and crisps. There are limits though, nothing sour, no jelly babies, only homemade icing, and only ready salted and quavers and wotsits.

The one good thing is Lily likes her fruit and veg, she will eat most fruits, other than oranges and other citrus fruit. She loves peas, carrots, broccoli, sweet corn and potato. After that though things get more limited, here’s a quick list of what she will eat.

  • Plain sausages
  • cocktail sausages
  • tinned beans & sausages
  • chicken nuggets (refusing recently)
  • boiled rice
  • plain pasta
  • white bread
  • Cream crackers
  • pepperoni pizza
  • burger (only recently)

She will also eat a few different cereals, until recently the milk had to be in a separate cup. Everything has to be plain, she won’t have sauce on anything, other can ketchup and gravy as long as they are in a separate bowl and not on the plate. Compared to what I’ve heard from others that’s not a bad list. It has taken some time and effort to slowly introduce new foods, or sometimes like recently. Lily randomly asked for a burger when Jack and I were having some.

Autism and food
Lily’s plain pasta meal

How to approach getting them to try new food

The way you approach getting your child to try new foods is very important, and that goes for any child not just an autistic one like Lily. I think we should be well past the days of, eat that or you’ll go hungry, that’ll teach them method. As my dad used to tell me, he was told by his dad. He half threatened that with me and my brother, but never followed it through.

When it comes to autism and food, you have to take the right approach. Just like with everything else with autism. The way we approach it with Lily, is the slow and steady approach. We always offer her everything that the rest of us have, and give her the choice to say yes or no. We get food in for her to try and offer it her. Only once, if she says no, leave it and try again another time. This has worked well with the fruit and vegetables. Keep showing her the foods and wait for her to become interested in them herself.

You never know what they are going to ask to try, I never expected her to ever want a burger. Just keep trying and it will take as long as it takes, Autism and food is not a subject that can be rushed. Getting Lily to learn to cook foods has also been helpful, she really enjoys it and it encourages her to touch different foods. Often it’s not the taste that’s the problem, if they won’t try it, how can it be? It’s the look, the feel and the texture of the food. Until recently I had to pick every last bit of cheese off of her pizza, before Lily would eat it. Now she eats the whole thing, perhaps making her own pizza helped with that? Click to see Lily’s pizza post!

Setbacks

Unfortunately like a lot of things with autistic children, there can be setbacks. Lily has visibly been finding things more difficult, the longer the current “lockdown” situation has gone on. As much as I’ve tried to keep her entertained, she struggles without her routine just like Jack does, and is missing her friends from school.

She has been saying she doesn’t know what she wants to eat a lot, and saying no to a lot of the things she’d normally eat. Thankfully pizza and roast potatoes and vegetables still always get a yes. I hope this is because of the anxiety and uncertainty of the current situation, and she will eventually go back to eating how she was.

We will have to see how that goes, taking the same approach as with new food. Offering it with no pressure, and letting her take her time. Are there any parents of autistic children in the same boat as us? Has the lockdown brought problems like this to the surface? And how have you been dealing with them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. That’s all from me on autism and food, thanks for reading.

Dad Does Autism

My name is Adam. I live with my partner Natalie, and our 2 children Jack and Lily. Both children are autistic, it is now my mission to show what life around autism is like. Spread the awareness and gain the acceptance that autistic people deserve.

30 thoughts on “Autism and Food

  • June 9, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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    Aw so sorry to hear Lily is struggling, she always looks so happy doing the activities you do. But it is such a confusing time for children.

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  • June 9, 2020 at 9:54 pm
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    I fully appreciate this one! One of my step brothers is autistic and food was a very big issue for him. You could probably count on your fingers the number of meals he’d eat and it had to be cooked exactly right. One minute longer than he’d like in the oven and he wouldn’t eat it, would never try new things. It was almost always one meal for the house and another for him. He got a lot better as he reached his mid teens onwards but he’s still extremely fussy. Lily sounds like she’s open to quite a few things! At least her preferences aren’t just junk food 😊

    Sophie

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:04 pm
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      A different meal for Lily than the rest of us is quite common, though her mum isn’t much better, so sometimes it’s 3 meals. I try to make hers as similar to ours as possible.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 7:43 am
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    Hopefully things get back to some sort of routine, sooner or later, and feels happier.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 8:09 am
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    I still love the look of those pizza’s 😁 You got her earring fruit & veg mate, you deserve a medal, mine won’t go near the stuff.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 9:08 am
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    You’re doing great! And that pizza looked amazing – it’s understandable that she’s finding lockdown a bite more difficult, but it’ll be over eventually xx

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:05 pm
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      Thank you, the pizza was lovely, I can’t wait for a bit of normality now.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 9:28 am
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    Very interesting and eye-opening. Thank you so much for continually educating us. There isn’t enough talk about autism and parenting.

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:06 pm
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      Thank you, that’s my aim, there’s not a lot of talk, and when there is, it is too often parents bemoaning how hard their life is, which is not what I want this to be.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 10:02 am
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    I am sure a lot of parents will read this and feel your pain. My son is not autistic but his diet is very similar to your daughters, he hates sauces so won’t eat spag bol, cottage pie, PIZZA(!!) etc but will eat most fruits and all vegetables.

    It can be really hard going when food is an issue because it is such a big part of each day. Thank you for sharing x

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:13 pm
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      Food just becomes so stressful, with Jack I just put a plate in front of him and the goof vanishes. With Lily it can take an hour for her to decide something, and then she might not eat it. As long as we’ve always got plenty of fresh fruit & veg, we are alright.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 10:54 am
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    Can really relate to this, my 4 year old has autism and will eat pretty much anything – but only if he chooses too. We’ve started bring a plate with all the food on and an empty one so he can pick the items he wants. He always eats it all but he has to serve it himself.

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:14 pm
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      It’s good that you’ve found a way that works 😊 it is amazing the little quirks that they have.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm
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    My son is very similar, everything has to be a sort of beige colour, and no sauce at all. He’d love the bowl of plain pasta.

    Kate

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  • June 10, 2020 at 1:15 pm
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    Very interesting/informative article – I didn’t know this about autism. Thank you for sharing – Im learning a lot from you on this condition!

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    • June 10, 2020 at 9:18 pm
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      Thank you, i love that you’re taking the time to read and learn, I really appreciate it.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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    I honestly didnt know much about autism but reading your blogs makes me learn new things. I really wish Lily a happy future! Thanks for sharing ☺️

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    • June 10, 2020 at 11:10 pm
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      Thank you, that’s so nice of you. I’m happy to know you are learning new things 😊

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  • June 10, 2020 at 3:10 pm
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    I hadn’t realised food was such a potential issues for people on the autism spectrum, although I guess I should have made the connection given that I had seen a fair few social media posts about it

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    • June 10, 2020 at 11:11 pm
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      Yeah, it’s something you don’t hear much about generally, until you get gathering of parents of autistic children, then it’s a hot topic.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 3:55 pm
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    I did not know that food could be a problem with autistic children. Thanks for sharing all this information. I always love to learn more about it. It looks like you are doing everything you can to get her to eat and try new foods!

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    • June 10, 2020 at 11:12 pm
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      Outside of the “autism community” it’s not something that gets talked about a lot, but it can be a very big issue. Thank you for always reading

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  • June 10, 2020 at 5:05 pm
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    This is really interesting! I know of friends who have had issues with their autistic children having problems with food.

    Amber – The Unpredicted page

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    • June 10, 2020 at 11:14 pm
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      It can be a big problem, like with any children some can move on at varying pace, but some stay that way into adulthood.

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  • June 10, 2020 at 5:31 pm
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    Neither of my children are autistic, but they do go through their picky phases. My oldest hates veggies except broccoli but only the “tree part” and carrots with ranch.

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    • June 10, 2020 at 11:17 pm
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      Only the tree part 😂 it is the best bit. It’s definitely a thing with any child, it can extend longer and into adulthood. My partner who is undiagnosed, but almost certainly autistic herself, is even worse than Lily.

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  • June 11, 2020 at 2:19 am
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    Great post! I was a terribly picky eater as a child and I am just growing out of it (this year was the first time I ate salad with dressing). What I found helped me a lot was learning to cook.

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    • June 11, 2020 at 7:53 am
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      Thank you. Learning to cook is definitely a great way to get to know foods, if you’ve handled and cooked it yourself, you are more likely to try it.

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  • June 11, 2020 at 10:31 am
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    This is really informative for those of us (like me) who don’t have experience with autism (in ourselves or with anyone else). I didn’t realise food was such a common struggle. Although food is certainly a struggle for a lot of people – autistic or not. I’ve definitely have a lot of problems with food in the past.

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    • June 11, 2020 at 5:26 pm
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      I only realised how common it was when Lily came along. If I put something on twitter about her eating, the replies come flooding in with people in the same boat.

      Reply

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