Posted on October 12, 2015 · Posted in News

75% of children with Austic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have problematic eating behaviours.  They may eat a limited diet with a similar textures and not accept substitutes. Food chaining is a method used to help children with ASD to reduce mealtime meltdowns and introduce more variety into their diet.  Our brains receive a constant and changing supply of information from our senses; sight, hearing, touch and taste.  In non-autistic children 5% of this information is received and responded to.  95% is filtered out and ignored. For children with ASD more than 95% is filtered out, and this makes them under-responsive, or for some less than 95% is filtered and these children are over-responsive.  At mealtimes under-responsive characteristics include: messy eating, slow to finish, dribbling and a preference for strong flavoured foods.  Over-responsive children are more likely to be picky eaters and prefer bland foods, using ketchup to mask flavours.

At mealtimes there are a lot of senses being stimulated.  Lights, people, noise and smells. The appearance of a cluttered table alone can often make a child with ASD feel anxious and overwhelmed. All this before food even enters their mouths!  Many children with ASD prefer foods that have a texture that doesn’t change when chewed.  When the properties of a food are not as expected, there can be panic. The coping mechanism is to stick to foods that they know are safe.  It is helpful to have a list of safe foods and have one of them on the plate at each mealtime.

Food Chaining to help increase dietary variety

ASD children have truly exceptional learning abilities.  Embrace this to help them learn and handle food to desensitise. Food games help and could include; food pictures or stickers, food based scratch and sniff stickers, drawing foods, or measuring and weighing.

Introduce changes slowly. Don’t be tempted to offer a food you think they should eat, offer only one that you are semi-confident that they can tolerate.  Build confidence and trust.  Allow the child to touch the food.  Touching and playing with foods allows for more sensory information.  It is the first step to prepare them for what to expect when it goes in their mouth.

Food chaining works on the basis that ASD children have certain preferences for food types, textures, temperatures, flavours and colours.  Based on these preferences and those foods that are known to be safe to the child, small changes can be introduced.  As an example a child enjoys crackers.  It has been noted that they prefer bland beige foods that are crunchy.  Next step is allow exploration of breadsticks or oatcakes or rich tea biscuits.  Once a new food has been introduced gradually branch out from there onto another new food, each pushing the preferences little by little.  It is a slow sensitisation process to help children with ASD adjust to the sight, smell, touch, taste and flavour of different foods and the mealtime settings.  It is not easy and every child is different as is every day!

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